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Kentucky Virus Unemployment Seekers Face ‘Bread Lines’ for Aid

June 18, 2020, 10:09 PM

Hundreds of Kentuckians seeking unemployment insurance compensation are waiting in daylong lines to speak with a state worker to address claims lingering since March due to an overwhelmed call center and 20-year-old software system.

“It is a perfect storm that results in so many people that have needed to wait for too long, and I know are at their wits’ end,” Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said during a Thursday news conference in Frankfort.

Videos taken in the Kentucky capital city on Wednesday and Thursday show people lined up farther than the eye can see, reportedly waiting eight hours or more to help clear up some of the more than 10,000 claims still unresolved since the early weeks of coronavirus pandemic closures. On Wednesday, 67 people waited in line at least 10 hours only to be told to come back for help the next day.

Beshear said a confluence of factors—long-term underfunding of the state’s system, federal rules that default to denying claims, and an unprecedented 900,000 claims—led to the delays.

Highest Unemployment in Nation

Kentucky has led the nation in the proportion of the workforce seeking unemployment assistance, with roughly one-third of the state workforce filing claims, according to Fitch Ratings. And as the process has dragged out, critics are sharpening rhetoric, saying Beshear is responsible for creating the unemployment due to orders that shut down portions of the state economy in an attempt to stall the spread of the coronavirus.

“Denied at the end of a bread line. Kicking people while they’re down and in (too) many cases desperate. #BeshearBreadlines,” state Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R) said in a Wednesday tweet on Twitter.

“When government takes peoples’ jobs away, it must do better than this,” state Rep. Jason Nemes (R) said in a Wednesday tweet.

Beshear said that in recent years the state’s system closed 29 regional offices and lost $41 million from its budget, leaving behind a “starved” system “designed to tell people, ‘No.’”

The state will reopen regional offices, closed due to the pandemic, so that people don’t have to drive from across the state’s 120 counties to Frankfort in hopes of speaking with a human about their claim.

“I don’t care if it makes me look bad, I just want to get it fixed,” Beshear said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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