FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Looking to end a backlog of unemployment claims filed this spring, Gov. Andy Beshear said the state has hired an outside company to shore up staffing to process the requests for assistance.
The goal is to process all unresolved jobless claims pending from March through May by the end of July, the governor said Tuesday in announcing the contract with Ernst & Young. About 56,000 initial claims from March, April and May haven’t been processed, he said.
“The purpose is to get us caught up and get us caught up quickly,” Beshear said.
The plight of Kentuckians still in limbo in seeking unemployment benefits has become a political headache for the Democratic governor, who has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers.
House GOP leaders recently said the backlog was a “massive failure of leadership” by Beshear’s administration, leaving people who have gone months without a paycheck as “collateral damage.”
On Tuesday, House Speaker David Osborne saw the contract as a positive development.
“We are glad to finally see some movement in this situation and hopeful that it means progress for the thousands of Kentuckians still waiting for their unemployment insurance claims to be processed,” the Republican leader said in a statement.
The state’s deal with Ernst & Young begins July 1 and runs for four weeks, Beshear said.
Under the arrangement, the company will provide 200 workers starting next week to help process claims in person and on the phone, followed by another 100 workers by mid-July, the governor said. Officials estimate the contract staffers will be able to process at least 50,000 claims.
“This is our best chance, in the short term, to help as many people out there as we can,” he said.
The state currently has about 100 people processing the unprecedented volume of jobless claims stemming from job losses and furloughs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The $7 million-plus contract will be paid for with funding from the federal economic rescue package stemming from the virus outbreak, the governor said.
The state has processed 90% of unemployment claims, paying out more than $2.7 billion since March, Beshear’s administration said. But the system endured years of budget cuts before the pandemic hit, which triggered record numbers of requests for jobless assistance, Beshear said. In 2017, 22 of the 51 local unemployment offices in Kentucky were cut along with 95 employees.
“I’ll take responsibility for where we are,” said Beshear, who took office late last year. “But I hope everybody else that participated in starving this system accepts responsibility. But more than that, commits to making sure that it won’t happen again.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, even death.