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McCoy update: Kentuckians need unemployment insurance payments — now

By CHAD McCOY
50th District State Representative

Wednesday, June 17, 2020 — The numbers are startling. More than 7,700 people have been waiting on unemployment insurance (UI) benefits since March. Another 28,000 stalled since April.

REP. CHAD MCCOY

But, it’s the stories behind these numbers that hit home. Every day, I field calls from constituents who are waiting. They don’t know why, they haven’t even been able to speak to an actual person. At first, they were patient. But as the weeks passed and the bills piled up, that patience became distrust and resentment. Other legislators are also trying to help constituents and the legislature’s constituent service office now has more than 4,400 pending UI cases.

Again, it is the people that number represents that matters. It’s the 17 percent of Kentucky renters who missed last month’s rent; the thousands of folks who have skipped at least one mortgage payment. In fact, it’s the parents sitting at their kitchen table right now, trying to figure out if they should make a car payment or buy groceries.

The Governor has done many things well in this crisis. Above all else, he has done a great job of communicating. Since mid-March, he has devoted nearly a hundred televised hours to telling us what he is doing to “flatten the curve” and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. During his nightly updates, he told us to quarantine – to go home and stay home. He told churches that they had to cancel in-person services, hospitals to stop “elective” procedures with the exception of abortion, and small businesses they had to send employees home and shutter.

Similarly, he told Kentucky’s workers to apply for unemployment when he shut the state down. After all, the program is specifically designed to provide benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. Benefits are funded almost entirely through employer taxes. To help, the legislature made it possible to waive the waiting period and we eliminated the penalty on employers. The federal government even increased the weekly benefits by $600.

Until the state’s response to COVID-19, Kentucky was in an extremely promising position for the kind of economic prosperity that creates generational change. We shattered records with low unemployment rates while investments in our economy skyrocketed. As of the end of February, there were more than 150,000 available jobs and the legislature was focused on eliminating the obstacles that prevent people from working.

Did we need hundreds of people dealing with unemployment insurance cases? Of course not – that would be a waste of taxpayer resources.

You can’t expect a system designed to help the historically few people who needed it to immediately meet the needs of almost half of your workforce. If you take steps that you know will shut down our economy and result in massive unemployment, you can’t just tell them they are going to get through it. You must do everything in your power to ensure that your unemployment insurance program is prepared.

It’s an old saying that you go to war with the army you have. But it goes unsaid that your first order of business must be retooling. You must find a way to quickly increase and improve your resources. Instead of doing so, he has criticized the existing UI structure and offered promise after promise to fix it. A promise without a plan is just a wish, and you can’t pay your electric bill with wishes.

As I am writing this, two groups of people are gathered at the Capitol. The first is made up of people who are protesting the moral failure of the unemployment insurance program. The second is a line of hundreds of people waiting to get help with their claims. Apparently, with protests planned, someone found a way to open this pop-up office. While I applaud the effort, I have to call into question the timing. Why does it take a protest to push the administration into doing the right thing? Why have people waited months to fix a problem that takes less than ten minutes? It is dangerously close to too little, too late for far too many people. And, because there’s no education in the second kick of a mule, we can only approach this with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Even though we are not in session at this time, I still want to hear from you regarding concerns about our Interim work or other issues. I can be reached through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181 or here at home. You can also contact me via e-mail at Chad.McCoy@lrc.ky.gov.

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