By Keith Smith, Editor
While the policians in Washington, D. C. still debate about another stimulus package even though they have not returned to the capitol to try and hammer out a deal in session, Republican President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order to extend unemployment benefits. Initially, benefits included an extra $600, but Trump’s executive order reduced the amount to $400. With the program facing an ending date in July, he did so as Congress and the White House could not agree on a package that would address unemployment and other things.
The extra amount was highly controversial as for some it made them earn more money via unemployment than they made working. Some claimed that it lessened a person’s motivation to return to work while others questioned on the pay structure if they can earn more on unemployment than working.
Democrat Governor Andy Beshear announced days later that Kentucky would opt into the program which called for states to pick up 25 percent or $100 of the extra $400. His administration indicated they would use federal coronavirus funds to cover the $100.
Cali Mills of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet indicated there are 85,195 unresolved cases, and Kentucky has not yet started paying out the extra $400.
“Since the pandemic began, there have been approximately 1,149,941 claims filed for unemployment insurance. The commonwealth has paid out more than $3.795 billion to Kentuckians since March, but no one in state government will be satisfied until all Kentuckians have received the unemployment benefits for which they qualify,” she indicated in an email to the paper.
While the funds are available, many have had problems since March in receiving their first check and help with their mounting financial crisis.
“Without a doubt, the Number One concern I hear about is the lack of communication from the state. The fact many of them have claims that date back to March or April and have still not spoken to a real person on the phone is extremely disappointing. I hear a lot from folks who have never had to depend on the government for anything, and now, when they need it most, it is failing them,” said 78th District Representative Mark Hart.
Senator Wil Schroder has helped three Pendleton County individuals with their claims but said the unemployment office does not want legislators to directly contact the office.
“All requests went through our constituent services department,” he said. “If they still have not received their checks they can reach out to my office at 502-564-8100 or Wil.Schroder@lrc.ky.gov.
It was a point echoed by Hart, “Anyone who needs help can call my office at (502) 564-8100 or email@example.com and the folks in constituent services will try to help.”
He added, “But, as I mentioned, the administration has shut down all communications and even our nonpartisan, non-political staff is shut out.”
Hart indicated that what they can do is have his legislative assistant get the needed information and forward it to the LRC Constitutional Services. They would then contact the individual and try to help resolve the issue.
“Each case is handled on an individual bases and the resolution is still dependent on the communication between LRC Constituent Services and the Unemployment Office. Unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us some of the time and we are still working to resolve claims,” said Hart.
“These folks may or may not actually be eligible for unemployment insurance, but they deserve to have their claims processed in a timely manner regardless,” he said while pointing out that Beshear entered into a $7.4 million no-bid contract with a company to provide about 300 workers, promising it would take care of the backlog from March.
“Since then, we’ve extended the contract for another $4 million and still only addressed 30 percent of the unresolved claims. The governor announced he would extend the contract through the end of the year. Again, the legislature has no control over how he is spending this money because he is using federal CARES funding,” said Hart.
Asked why the backlog, Schroder responded, “That’s a great question and it’s also the tragedy of this whole situation. I completely understand that the office would be overwhelmed back in March but this has been way too long. A number of the constituents who I heard back from were able to get their problems solved in a matter of minutes once they actually talked with someone, but they couldn’t get a hold of anyone for months through phone or email.”