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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Opinion: It’s Time to Fix Kentucky’s Unemployment System


By Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon

Governor Beshear, thousands of Kentuckians are counting on you.  It’s hard when you don’t have all the answers.  I get it.  We all face challenges in life that you just cannot figure out. It’s painful and frustrating, and you let your pride get in the way of asking for help.  In the case of Kentucky’s unemployment system, it’s been almost a year trying to untangle the mess, and eventually you just have to figure it out.
 
Recently, my office released the first volume of the annual Statewide Single Audit of Kentucky, which detailed several troubling items relating to the Office of Unemployment Insurance from an accounting, financial statement, internal control, and data security standpoint. But perhaps the most troubling to me was the more than 400,000 unread emails the office archived. Governor, these Kentuckians were directed by your administration to send their pleas for help to that address, and their voices were intentionally pushed to the side and ignored.
 
When I spoke to legislators, they told me more than 100 legislative staff were made available early on during the pandemic to assist with the influx of calls. When you refused their offer, it caused me to pause.  Those employees may not have been trained to adjudicate UI claims, but each day legislative staff deal with the most complicated issues the state faces, and certainly could have helped in receiving, categorizing, routing, and tracking calls and emails.  Most importantly, they could have assured Kentuckians had their voices heard when it mattered most.
 
When House and Senate leadership indicated that they were never conferred with during months of problems and an olive branch was only extended when your powers were being reduced by legislation this January, it saddened me even more.  If you communicate what you need to fix the UI problems, I’m confident that other state leaders want to help. 
 
Every day, I hear from the good people of this Commonwealth about not only their pain and suffering from having no income, but their continued frustration when they call or email and only get silence in return.
 
People are desperate for you or one of your employees to listen to them. They did nothing wrong, yet their pay was stripped from them because they worked in an industry or business hit by the pandemic. Many have lost their homes, been forced to move in with parents or friends, can’t pay their basic bills, and struggle to keep food on the table for their children. In addition to losing income, they feel the loss of their pride and their dignity that comes with work.
 
Governor, you are still getting paid.  I am still getting paid.  The employees of this Commonwealth are getting paid.  The time has long since passed that our neighbors who are hurting get paid what they are due.
 
If recent press briefings are correct after the release of my office’s report, which can be reviewed at auditor.ky.gov, your team says there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I hope you are correct.
 
I pray you do succeed in resolving all the unemployment issues.  Your success will not restore what has been lost during this pandemic, but perhaps it will allow the hard-working people of this Commonwealth to laugh again, to live again, and to have hope again. Your success means our people can succeed, and that’s what I truly want for Kentucky.
 
And hopefully, on a day not too far into the future, the sun will once again shine bright on My Old Kentucky Home.

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