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Commentary: Rebuilding unemployment after years of cuts

OP-ED from Rocky Adkins
Senior Advisor to Gov. Andy Beshear

Frankfort, KY My fellow Kentuckians deserve better than an unemployment office that has been starved of funding for years and a system that was designed to tell them "no" when they need help.

On those dark days when Kentuckians have lost their job, they deserve better, and Gov. Andy Beshear is committed to fixing the state's antiquated unemployment system with financial, staffing and geographic challenges that was unable to meet demands brought on by unprecedented claims related to COVID-19.

Gov. Beshear recently announced drastic steps to help Kentuckians and ensure they receive the benefits for which they are qualified, however Kentuckians must know how we got in this situation - the Bevin administration starved the office of resources and funding for years.

In fact, some of my former colleagues in the General Assembly who partnered with the Bevin administration to slash unemployment have been quick to criticize the efficiency of a office they set up to fail Kentucky workers.

As a longtime member and former leader in the Kentucky House of Representatives, I pushed back as the previous governor's administration dismantled the unemployment office.

Despite tireless objections, the Bevin administration continued with their plan and succeeded.

In 2017, they closed more than 30 of the state's 51 regional career centers, which provided job training and in-person assistance for unemployment insurance (UI) claims. They moved 95 employees out of career centers and unemployment services. From 2010 to 2018, the unemployment office budget received $16 million in cuts. The administration promised to overhaul the antiquated system, but never did. The system is now older than some people using it.

These devastating changes either forced Kentuckians to drive longer distances to the few remaining regional offices with limited staff or call the Frankfort office, which had just 12 employees.

When we took office seven months ago, we inherited this broken system, which made it nearly impossible to respond quickly to the unprecedented amount of claims brought on by COVID-19.

For comparison, in 2019, 158,517 Kentuckians filed for unemployment insurance. Since March, more than 1 million Kentuckians have applied. Even with the challenges facing the office, more that 90% have been processed and we've paid more than $3 billion to Kentuckians.

While many have received help, no one in the Beshear administration is happy until every claim is resolved.

Gov. Beshear understands that this is his problem to fix now and is working every day to do so. He is doing so with tenacity and transparency, because our top priority will always be improving the lives of every Kentucky family - no matter what it takes.

This month, the Governor hired the respected firm Ernst & Young to bring in an additional 300 people to process outstanding claims. This move will use Federal CARES funding and save more than $15 million that would have been associated with long-term personnel and processing costs.

The Governor also is taking steps to replace the system's 20-year-old technology used to process claims. He has returned the Office of Unemployment Insurance to the Labor Cabinet, added roughly 60 more in-house employees and asked the Labor Secretary to oversee the office.

He restarted in-person services ended by the previous administration. Processors are working with Kentuckians in person daily in Frankfort, have been in Owensboro, Ashland, Somerset, Hopkinsville, Prestonsburg and Covington, and we will continue to add in-person services in counties throughout Kentucky.

This will cut down on long driving distances for folks who want to resolve claims in person, but will better protect Kentuckians during the COVID-19 pandemic by limiting travel as much as we can.

Finally, we have committed to regularly reevaluating the system and addressing issues as they arise to prevent additional stress on our families.

This year, COVID-19 and a dismantled unemployment system combined to create the perfect storm where some Kentuckians have had to wait far too long for assistance.

This administration will take every step necessary to ensure a problem like this never happens again.

And as we take steps to rebuild the office and system, I hope everyone sees the unemployment system is invaluable to Kentuckians and works with us to build a more efficient and effective system.

Gov. Beshear knows our fellow Kentuckians need this help right now and he is taking action and demanding they get it.

This story was posted on 2020-07-14 12:26:42
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