storm

Sen. Brandon Storm

The General Assembly successfully passed nearly 200 pieces of legislation during the 30-day 2021 Session. Bills covered a wide variety of topics, but the impacts of COVID-19 continue to loom over the legislature, our state, and the nation. This is certainly the case for Kentucky, which is struggling with ongoing Unemployment Insurance (UI) issues.

Employees of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet are working hard to address the backlog of claims. They and UI claimants have also had to deal with—and are dealing with—fraudulent claims and attempts to breach the UI system.

On Thursday, April 8, it was announced that OUI was shutting down the UI system for four days due to fraud, at which time no new claims could be filed. According to the administration, all unemployment claimants will have to re-register with an eight-digit personal identification number (PIN) mailed to them from the Labor Cabinet. The cabinet issued further steps that claimants must take. They include:

· Creation of a new 12 character password using a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.

· Verification of your email address and receiving an access code through your email account.

· Use of the new eight-digit PIN you are mailed from the cabinet—The telephone claiming system (interactive voice response) will also use the eight-digit PIN.

· Review all information in your account to make sure it is correct, and if it is not, you can receive a paper check. Only new claimants can enter account information for the time being.

This new information comes following the Labor Cabinet issuing a press release on April 2 stating that it had stopped claimants from making changes to their bank account information on file with the agency. That decision was prompted by reports from claimants who saw unauthorized changes to their bank accounts. The Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) and the Commonwealth Office of Technology had previously stated that no security systems or information technology infrastructure had been breached or compromised. At the time of this article's submission, it is unclear if this is related to the UI system's shutting down on April 8. Moving forward, OUI will require UI claimants to have more complex PINS to prevent unauthorized access to accounts instead of simple four-digit PINs like 1111 or 1234, which are more prone to exploitation.

Over the last year, constituents have expressed frustrations over their inability to connect with another human being on the phone when calling OUI. Claimants with bills piling up and other life issues to deal with have been placed in a call queue, patiently waiting for assistance with their claims. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all regional offices were closed, but we have come a long way since last year. Vaccination rates are increasing, case counts are falling, and our hospital and intensive care unit occupancy are at manageable levels.

With all of this in mind, it is past time for offices to open up and provide help for Kentuckians in need. The legislature passed Senate Bill 146 to do just that. A provision in the bill requires that the Labor Cabinet make no less than 12 regional UI offices open, fully functional, and adequately staffed with trained UI specialists by April 15. The bill also implements criminal background check requirements for every prospective and current employee of the Labor Cabinet and its agencies, including contract staff, who can access or use federal tax information. The law directs the Labor Cabinet secretary to identify offices in regions where the unemployment rate has been above five percent in the last six months. The cabinet has the discretion to open additional offices on a full or partial schedule if it wishes.

The Kentucky Career Center (KCC) has identified the following offices opening for appointments April 15—April 30. On April 19, appointments for May 3 will be available, with additional times opening after that. They include:

Ashland - 1844 Carter Ave., Ashland, KY 41042

Bowling Green - 803 Chestnut St., Bowling Green, KY 42101

Covington - 1324 Madison Ave., Covington, KY 41011

Elizabethtown - 233 Ring Rd., Suite 100, Elizabethtown, KY 42701

Hazard - 412 Roy Campbell Dr. Hazard, KY 41701

Hopkinsville - 110 Riverfront Dr., Hopkinsville, KY 42240

Lexington - 2624 Research Park Dr., Lexington, KY 40511

Louisville - 600 W. Cedar St., Louisville, KY 40202

Morehead - 1225 U.S. Hwy. 60 West, Suite 160, Morehead, KY 40351

Owensboro - 3108 Fairview Dr., Owensboro, KY 42303

Paducah - 416 South 6th St., Paducah, KY 42001

Prestonsburg - 686 North Lake Dr., Prestonsburg, KY 41339

Somerset - 410 East Mt. Vernon St., Somerset, KY 42501

On April 7, the KCC website began allowing the public to schedule appointments. Please visit kcc.ky.gov to make an appointment or find when other openings may become available. When accessing the website, you should click on the orange "Schedule an Appointment" link. You will then click the blue "Make Appointment" link and select your appointment type (Unemployment Insurance Assistance – In Person). At that point, you will be put into an online queue showing you what number you are "in line" and a display indicating the approximate amount of time it should take for you to view available openings. Be aware; if all appointment slots are booked, you will be unable to enter the online queue. If the website shows you a message of “no availability,” make sure to check back regularly for any opportunities that may become available. If appointment slots for the first round of openings become filled, the next available day to schedule one appears to be April 19. That would be for appointments on May 3.

The legislature took additional steps to help with the unemployment crisis. Earlier in the session, we passed Senate Bill 7, a priority bill for the State Senate that gave the Labor Cabinet secretary authority to waive the requirement that people who mistakenly received benefits they did not qualify for must pay that money back. Additionally, the following budget appropriations were made this year:

· $575 million for UI loan repayment on the more than $800 million loan taken out by the Governor last year (House Bill 382). Paying this down will provide tax rate relief to Kentucky small business owners.

· $47.5 million for the replacement of the antiquated UI system (House Bill 192). The Governor wanted to use bond funds but the General Assembly elected to use general fund dollars.

· $9.5 million to fund 90 additional UI employees to help with the backlog of claims (House Bill 192).

It is a true honor to represent Laurel, Jackson, Estill, Powell, Menifee, and Bath Counties in the Kentucky State Senate. If you have any questions about this public policy issue or any other matter of importance to you, do not hesitate to contact my office toll-free by calling 502-564-8100. You can also email me at brandon.storm@lrc.ky.gov. Stay safe. God bless.

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