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 undoubtedly 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. 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 levels 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 (SB) 146 to do just that. 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 law directs the Labor Cabinet secretary to identify offices in regions where the unemployment rate has been above five percent 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. Locations 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 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 SB 7, a priority bill for the State Senate that gave the Labor Cabinet secretary authority 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).
Many thanks to all of the hard-working employees at OUI who are doing the best they can with the poor hand they have been dealt. I continue to be grateful for the work of Ms. Morgan Eaves, who is communicating and working extended hours to take care of constituent’s concerns.
It is an honor to represent the 31st District in the Kentucky State Senate. Should you have any comments or concerns about this issue or any other public policy issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office. You can reach my office toll-free at 502-564-8100 Ext: 714 or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. God bless.
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Note: Senator Phillip Wheeler (R-Pikeville) represents Kentucky’s 31st State Senate District, which includes Elliott, Lawrence, Martin, Morgan, and Pike Counties. Senator Wheeler is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor. He also serves as a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Transportation, Natural Resources and Energy, Judiciary, and State and Local Government. Additionally, he is a member of the Capital Planning and Bond Oversight Statutory Committee. For a high-resolution .jpeg of Senator Wheeler, please visit: https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislators%20Full%20Res%20Images/senate131.jpg