16 March 2020 - Will Wright (Lexington Herald-Leader)
Gov. Andy Beshear ordered the state Monday to begin waiving Kentucky’s waiting period for unemployment benefits as job losses from the novel coronavirus pandemic mounted.
Kentucky Career Center spokeswoman Holly Neal said officials in Kentucky’s unemployment office are working to accommodate the governor’s order.
Beshear also said the state will waive the requirement that applicants search for work while Kentucky remains in a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beshear has issued an unprecedented set of directives in an effort to stop person-to-person spread of the virus. On Monday, Beshear said he issued executive orders to close all restaurants and bars to “in-person traffic” and to close child care centers by the end of Friday.
“We know the steps we are taking are going to cause people to lose their jobs,” Beshear said. “We want you to be able to qualify for unemployment and we don’t want to create impediments that keep you from being able to get through this. We are going to make sure we get through this together.”
Neal said people who have lost their jobs for any reason, including the coronavirus outbreak, should continue to file for unemployment through the normal process until told otherwise.
People can apply for unemployment benefits online or by phone, by calling 502-875-0442 or visiting the Kentucky Career’s Center unemployment benefits page at https://kcc.ky.gov/career.
On Monday afternoon, however, the phone line used to file claims was not functioning. A call yielded an automated response that said the system is experiencing technical difficulties. The call then ended.
Neal said the website is also experiencing technical difficulties.
Beshear said his administration is increasing staff and working to correct the issues with unemployment filings.
“We are working as fast as we can. I know that’s not a lot of consolation to those that had to wait,” Beshear said. “We will be there for you. We will help you. We will do everything we can to make sure that you qualify, if you qualify.”
It remains unclear exactly how the governor’s order will impact the distribution of benefits, but officials are “in rooms with locked doors” to determine how the state will waive the usual waiting period, Neal said.
Under the normal process, people who apply for unemployment typically receive their first check two weeks after they first apply, but only receive payment for one of those two weeks.
The week for which applicants are unpaid is referred to as a “waiting week.”
Beshear’s order will allow people who lost their jobs because of coronavirus-related workplace decisions to receive payment for that week, according to the governor’s office.
“While we have not yet experienced large-scale job loss as a result of the coronavirus, we want to be prepared for that,” Josh Benton, deputy secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said during an afternoon news Monday. “Most importantly, we want to serve those Kentuckians who are in the process of experiencing job loss as a result of the coronavirus.”
Benton said the cabinet will award benefits to people who lose work because they had to self-isolate, and to people who were employees of businesses that cut hours or laid off workers due to the coronavirus.
Applicants will need the following documents and information to complete their application: the applicant’s social security number, address and phone number; and company names, addresses and phone numbers for all recent employers.
Kentucky unemployment recipients can receive between $39 and $552 per week in benefits. Unemployment insurance is restricted to people who lost their jobs or had their hours cut through no fault of their own.
There were 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky as of Monday evening. One person has died.
Mike Clark, the University of Kentucky’s interim director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, said the hospitality and leisure sectors, which includes restaurants and hotels, will be most directly impacted by the coronavirus in the near future.
“We’re hearing a lot of closures and cancellations in terms of events, and that is going to be hard on those types of businesses,” Clark said. “As they start seeing demand for their services decline, they may find that they have less of a need for workers.”
About 10 percent of Kentucky’s civilian workforce, or 208,000 people, were employed in that sector as of January 2020, according to the Kentucky Center for Statistics.
Restaurants, which typically operate on low profit margins, may be the hardest hit in the short-term.
In the long-term, the retail and manufacturing sectors could also see declines. As the virus spreads and reduces global demand for goods, manufacturing businesses may see a significant drop in demand, Clark said.
Exports account for about 15 percent of Kentucky’s gross domestic product, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
“As demand globally starts to decline, we’re going to start seeing reduced demand for our exports,” Clark said.