Girdler addresses state’s unemployment situation

The General Assembly successfully passed nearly 200 pieces of legislation during the 30-day 2021 Session. Bills covered a wide variety of topics, but the impacts of COVID-19 continue to loom over the legislature, our state, and the nation. This is certainly the case for Kentucky, which is struggling with ongoing Unemployment Insurance (UI) issues.

Employees of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet are working hard to address the backlog of claims. They and claimants have also had to deal with fraudulent claims. Recently, the cabinet issued a press release stating that it has stopped claimants from making changes to the bank account information on file with the agency. The decision comes following reports that claimants saw unauthorized changes to their bank accounts. The Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) and the Commonwealth Office of Technology stated that no security systems or information technology infrastructure had been breached or compromised. The OUI will require UI claimants to create more complex personal identification numbers (PIN) to prevent unauthorized access to their accounts instead of simple PINs like 1111 or 1234, which are more prone to exploitation.

Over the last year, constituents have expressed frustrations over their inability to connect with another human being on the phone when calling OUI. Claimants with bills piling up and other life issues to deal with have been placed in a call queue, patiently waiting for assistance with their claims. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all regional offices were closed, but we have come a long way since last year. Vaccination rates are increasing, case counts are falling, and our hospital and intensive care unit occupancy are at manageable levels.

With all of this in mind, it is past time for offices to open up and provide help for Kentuckians in need. The legislature passed Senate Bill 146 to do just that. A provision in the bill requires that the Labor Cabinet make no less than 12 regional UI offices open, fully functional, and adequately staffed with trained UI specialists by April 15. The bill also implements criminal background check requirements for every prospective and current employee of the Labor Cabinet and its agencies, including contract staff, who can access or use federal tax information. The law directs the Labor Cabinet secretary to identify offices in regions where the unemployment rate has been above 5% in the last six months. The Cabinet has the discretion to open additional offices on a full or partial schedule if it wishes.

The Kentucky Career Center (KCC) has identified the following offices opening for appointments April 15—April 30. On April 19, appointments for May 3 will be available, with additional times opening after that. They include:

• Ashland – 1844 Carter Ave., Ashland, KY  41042

• Bowling Green – 803 Chestnut St., Bowling Green, KY 42101

• Covington – 1324 Madison Ave., Covington, KY 41011

• Elizabethtown – 233 Ring Rd., Suite 100, Elizabethtown, KY 42701

• Hazard – 412 Roy Campbell Dr. Hazard, KY 41701

• Hopkinsville – 110 Riverfront Dr., Hopkinsville, KY 42240

• Lexington – 2624 Research Park Dr., Lexington, KY 40511

• Louisville – 600 W. Cedar St., Louisville, KY  40202

• Morehead – 1225 U.S. Hwy. 60 West, Suite 160, Morehead, KY 40351

• Owensboro – 3108 Fairview Dr., Owensboro, KY 42303

• Paducah – 416 South 6th St., Paducah, KY 42001

• Prestonsburg – 686 North Lake Dr., Prestonsburg, KY 41339

• Somerset – 410 East Mt. Vernon St., Somerset, KY 42501

On April 7, the KCC website began allowing the public to schedule appointments. Please visit kcc.ky.gov to make an appointment or find when other openings may become available. When accessing the website, you should click on the orange “Schedule an Appointment” link. You will then click the blue “Make Appointment” link and select your appointment type (Unemployment Insurance Assistance – In Person). At that point, you will be put into an online queue showing show you what number you are “in line” and a display indicating the approximate amount of time it should take for you to view available openings.

The legislature took additional steps to help with the unemployment crisis. Earlier in the session, we passed Senate Bill 7, a priority bill for the State Senate that gave authority to the Labor Cabinet secretary to waive the requirement that people who mistakenly received benefits they did not qualify for must pay that money back. Additionally, the following budget appropriations were made this year:

• $575 million for UI loan repayment on the more than $800 million loan taken out by the Governor last year (House Bill 382). Paying this down will provide tax rate relief to Kentucky small business owners.

• $47.5 million for the replacement of the antiquated UI system (House Bill 192). The Governor wanted to use bond funds but the General Assembly elected to use general fund dollars.

• $9.5 million to fund 90 additional UI employees to help with the backlog of claims (House Bill 192).

If you have any questions or comments about this public policy issue or regarding the 2021 Legislative Session, I certainly want to hear from you. You can contact me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Rick.Girdler@lrc.ky.gov.

Sen. Rick Girdler (R-Somerset) represents the 15th District, including Boyle, Lincoln, and Pulaski counties. Sen. Girdler is the co-chairman of the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee. He also serves as vice-chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Banking and Insurance and is a member of the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee.