When it comes to unemployment, are we still in this together?


Remember those long lines for unemployment benefits this spring and summer? Kentucky’s unemployment system has left many anxious about how they will survive the pandemic. Now we’re learning about a new issue that will hurt even more people.

A recent well-done investigation by Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed even more troubling problems with many Kentuckians scrambling for answers. The state is telling them to pay back claims despite following the instructions of Gov. Andy Beshear to self-quarantine if there was a reasonable risk of exposure at their job.

Reporters talked with several unemployment insurance lawyers who heard from many people caught between a rock and a hard place. The unemployment office approved their claim and issued payments only to reassess later and find those workers ineligible a month later.

The investigation follows Tracey Hayes of Glasgow, who is challenging the state in the Monroe Circuit Court. Her ruling could have a ripple effect that extends to others who self-quarantined based on what they heard the governor say at his briefings.

On March 25, the governor told Kentuckians the state was expanding unemployment insurance to new categories of people, including contract workers, substitute teachers and “anyone who has had to leave their job because of quarantine.”

“This means that so many of you who are out there, who were worried, are now able to file, and we want you to,” Beshear said. While he spoke, viewers saw a slide that said people were eligible for unemployment if they left their job due to a “reasonable risk of exposure (self-quarantine).”

In response to the investigation, the Beshear administration said the governor passed along guidance from the federal government that changed a month later.

The state did not communicate the change to those receiving the benefit and, now, recipients like Hayes are left to find a way to pay it back or face the consequences.

The state’s frequently asked questions webpage about unemployment insurance benefits still says Kentuckians with a reasonable fear of contracting coronavirus are eligible if their employer hasn’t offered telework or reasonable accommodations.

That’s not acceptable. If we’re all in this together, as Gov. Beshear likes to say, then that should include unemployment issues brought on by the state itself. The Beshear administration dropped the ball by not updating the information and even continuing to send them unemployment. Sadly, some Kentuckians are now facing a debt they would not have accrued otherwise.

Maybe the Monroe Circuit Court case can provide some relief for Kentuckians who, through no fault of their own, are facing steep burdens in paying back what our governor told them was rightfully theirs to claim.

Kentucky workers have filed more than 1 million jobless claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. While around 90% of cases have been processed, tens of thousands are still unresolved. Many of them were filed in March, April and May.

How long would your family survive without any kind of income?

And even worse, imagine receiving a letter from the unemployment office that says what you are expecting isn’t coming and you must repay what you’ve already received. What if you’ve already spent the money on groceries, bills and a house payment or rent?

That’s not getting through this together. The state should bear the responsibility to make this right for Kentuckians.


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