Audit Details 'Systematic' Failures In Kentucky's Unemployment System
A new report by State Auditor Mike Harmon catalogs what it calls a "systematic failure of leadership" as the state grappled with a record influx of jobless claims during the unfolding pandemic in 2020.
A backlog of 400,000 emails, some still unopened as of November 9, "high-risk decisions" made to pay out claims at a faster pace, and a response that still left many waiting months for unemployment checks — that's a taste of the newly-released audit by Republican Mike Harmon, who summed up the report in a video posted to social media.
"The unemployment situation of 2020 represents, well, a failure on the part of government to serve those who needed it the most, and a failure to ensure the integrity of the unemployment insurance fund," he said.
At the center of many of those failures, he said, were decisions to suspend some controls meant to provide oversight of the claims process.
Gov. Andy Beshear has pointed to a whittled down and underfunded unemployment office operating with outdated technology as reasons the state struggled to respond to the unprecedented wave of claims caused by the pandemic.
Kentucky Democrats unveiled legislation Tuesday they say will better prepare Kentucky to handle unemployment claims and ensure solvency of the system.
Rep. McKenzie Cantrell says her House Bill 406 would work to repair problems with the state's unemployment system laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic — problems that have led to emotional conversations between lawmakers and out-of-work Kentuckians unsure how to make ends meet.
"This crisis is, without a doubt, the number one issue facing our constituents," the Democrat declared.
Cantrell told reporters her bill would stabilize the unemployment trust fund and prepare the system for the future downturns. Asked about hundreds of thousands of unread emails in the auditor's report, Cantrell said different types of reforms are needed.
"Some of the changes that need to be made are financial in nature, because we need increased staffing to address unread emails, but also there are systemic changes... that need to be made and that's part of what we are trying to accomplish," the representative said.
Cantrell also criticized Republicans for not acting on unemployment reforms when passing priority bills in the opening days of the session.