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Friday, February 26, 2021

Frustration over unemployment insurance leads to bill passage

Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, explaining Senate Bill 7, a measure he introduced relating to unemployment insurance benefits.

The Senate unanimously passed legislation today designed to give relief to out-of-work Kentuckians who have been asked to return their unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.
“We cannot legislate that the executive branch functions efficiently or effectively,” Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, said after citing a long list of widely reported problems within the state’s UI office. “What we can do ... is make it possible for this administration to start to fix what they have broken."
Known as Senate Bill 7, the measure would provide a procedure for people who received overpayments of UI benefits to request a waiver so they are not required to repay the money. The bill would cover overpayments made from Jan. 27 through Dec. 31 of last year.
For the waiver to be granted, the recipients must have received the overpayment through no fault of their own, according to language in the bill. The recipient would also have the right to appeal any denial of the waiver. The bill was amended on the floor to double the amount of time an appeal can be filed to 30 days. The amendment was made by Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg.
“The second part of the legislation deals with the future as we talk about a new system,” said Givens, the primary sponsor of SB 7. “This legislation puts in some integrity parameters to try to avoid some of the chaos and calamity we are dealing with now.”
SB 7 would also require the UI office to take numerous steps in the future to verify the eligibility of persons claiming unemployment benefits, prevent fraudulent filings of claims and prevent overpayments. Another section would entitle the state attorney general access to UI records to investigate and prosecute fraudulent claims.
“To the best of our ability, this legislation deals with today, a slight portion of the future and small elements of the past,” Givens said, “but we still stand in a place where the administration is culpable and responsible for the delivery and adequate oversight of this necessary fund.”
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, defended the executive branch’s actions.
“If we are going to point fingers let’s look into the mirror too because this is a longer and deeper conversation than just unemployment,” he said. “We knew last year we didn’t have enough money to run the basic need and obligations of state government as it currently existed.”

The co-sponsor of SB 7, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, was one of many lawmakers who stood during a nearly two-hour floor debate to express frustration with how the UI office has handled a backlog of claims brought on by COVID-19 and the resulting business closures. He said the executive branch hasn’t taken up the legislative branch’s repeated requests to help find a solution.
“It has been very frustrating trying to get answers and representing the people,” Carroll said. “People expect us to be able to help them. The reality is we haven’t been able to help them other than a few cases. It is very difficult.”
Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, suggested statewide office holders in Frankfort should be required to stand in the unemployment line the next time an executive order is issued closing down businesses.
“Sometimes you have to put yourself in the miserable pit everyone else is in before you might want to turn around and fix it,” he said.
SB 7 passed by a 35-0 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

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