As our community, our Commonwealth and our Nation continues to adapt to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not forget those who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut dramatically.
As local governments, we continue to change and adapt the way we operate in order to provide for our citizens’ safety and well-being. Whatever successes we have will be the result of each and every one trying to be the best we can be.
While the surge in unemployment claims is a result of the pandemic, and while this result is exacerbated by the many funding and staffing cuts that went on over the last 10 years, the solution is out of the hands of local governments.
There are many folks still suffering while waiting on their much-needed benefits, and each one is pleading for help. We are not pointing fingers at anyone or any agency, but as elected officials we hear the desperation in the voices of the folks needing some hope and some help.
Putting aside all that has gone on up to this point, we as elected officials would like to know what the plan is going forward to ensure our most vulnerable can keep their electricity and gas on, pay their rent and feed their loved ones.
After reading State Auditor Mike Harmon’s report concerning unemployment insurance, we think it is fair to say that there needs to be an all-out assault on the unemployment benefits program.
The Auditor reports that as of October 2020, over 400,000 emails sent to the Kentucky employment assistance folks went unread, and over 100,000 are backlogged and unprocessed. For the full report, visit auditor.ky.gov. We hope by now those numbers have improved.
As elected officials who hear complaints but have no solutions, we humbly submit these ideas, while anxiously awaiting a plan, because no one actually believes this is the only pandemic we will ever have.
These questions and ideas come to mind:
- Simplify the application!
- Is the agency properly staffed and managed?
- Can CARES Act funding be used to update the outdated computer system that handles the applications and distribution of benefits?
- Do we have enough ways for the unemployed to access help with the process?
- Open our Career Centers so that in-person help can be given to those having trouble with filing claims.
- Answer emails and phone calls in a timely manner!
We all must do our part to help the folks in our communities who are caught in hopelessness. Working as Team Kentucky, can we move forward with an updated plan to resolve the issues causing the backlog and provide immediate assistance to those in need?
Co-authored by Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson and Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly.