Labor Cabinet Struggling to Fill Staffing Positions

The Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary says they are struggling to fill open positions funded by onetime federal funds. Secretary James link testified before the Unemployment Insurance Task Force for the first time since starting his job July 1. Link said potential hires are hesitant to apply because the jobs are temporary.

According to Link, a budget request made in March for $1.1 million in Fiscal Year 2021 and $8.4 million in FY 2022 would fund the 90 positions needed to catch up on unemployment insurance claims.

Link testified about the progress made creating more in-person appointments for unemployed Kentuckians. From April 15 to July 15, more than 40,000 people made in-person appointments. In that same time, workers fielded more than 70,000 calls.

Committee members asked about the efforts to modernize Kentucky’s unemployment insurance system. Link said an internal task force hopes to finalize a request for proposals (RFP) in the coming weeks. That system upgrade should cost an estimated $40 million, but concerns over cyber security that forced the cabinet to pull the initial RFP may require using multiple vendors for different aspects of the job.

Link also said a U.S. Department of Labor initiative may offer answers. The cabinet may join a consortium of five or six states for the pilot program. Officials hope to create a system to address the federal unemployment requirements they can tailor to individual state’s needs. Link explained that by working both solutions simultaneously his cabinet can decide the best path forward.

“We need to build a system for the long-term that is sustainable and can address occurrences like this in the future,” Link told the task force. “Certainly, we expect unemployment insurance claims will diminish with time as people become reemployed, which the goal is to get people back to work and off of unemployment insurance.”

Representative Phillip Pratt (R-Georgetown) asked for an update on reports that 60 Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) employees had “gamed the system” during the pandemic. Labor Cabinet Executive Director of Legal Affairs Morgan Eaves could not detail individual cases but testified that personnel cases were ongoing. She said some findings resulted in dismissal.

Office of Unemployment Insurance Executive Director Buddy Hoskins updated lawmakers on the more than 14,000 overpayment notices sent to Kentuckians who received more than their share of benefits. OUI approved 2,310 waivers that recipients filed electronically. Those waivers totaled approximately $3 million. Another 2,600 recipients filed waivers by mail, Hoskins said. Workers processed 1,000 of those with another 1,500 to go. Seventy-seven people did not properly answer questionnaires and had filed lower-level appeals.

The task force will meet again August 30.