Governor Andy Beshear says he will merge the Kentucky Labor Cabinet and Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, a move that will ultimately require the General Assembly to pass a reorganization bill. The announcement during his Thursday news conference included the governor’s insistence that Kentucky updates its unemployment insurance (UI) computer system.
For months, members of the Unemployment Insurance Reform Task Force have questioned Labor Cabinet officials about case backlogs and technology concerns. During the task force’s October hearing, Executive Director Buddy Hoskinson testified that 84,000 unprocessed claims remained, with about 60,000 of those for regular unemployment insurance and 3,800 connected to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Thursday, Governor Beshear told reporters he was unsure how many cases remain outstanding.
New data released by the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday showed another 5,243 Kentuckians filed for regular unemployment benefits during the week that ended November 13. That represents a significant drop from the previous week’s filings of 13,971; however, Kentucky’s unemployment claims per capita remain high. At 455, Kentucky had the highest PEUC new weekly claims of all states.
Beshear insisted that combining the cabinets would help clear unresolved UI cases and prevent future issues. In addition, he said the new cabinet would have a larger workforce, allow cross-training to help during a crisis, streamline policy and grant work, and improve communication as the state helps those seeking a career.
Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link will continue to lead after the merger. Education and Workforce Development Acting Secretary Mary Pat Regan will serve as deputy secretary along with current Labor Cabinet Deputy Secretary Vickie Wise.
The cabinet merger, Beshear said, represents one piece in a four-part effort. The other parts of his plan include:
- Replacing the four-decades-old UI computer system;
- Addressing fraudulent claims while processing new claims; and
- Funding a sufficient, permanent staff.
A request for proposals (RFP) for the new UI computer system recently closed, and the state is currently scoring the RFPs.
Beshear also commented on the coronavirus pandemic. Monday, he said data suggested that key COVID-19 statistics have plateaued, but slight increases in the past week now indicate there may be a slight uptick coming.
He again urged Kentuckians to get vaccinated or receive their booster shot. Wednesday, Beshear filed an executive order declaring any adult living or working in Kentucky eligible for the follow-up vaccine six months following the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or two months post-Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Nearly 447,000 Kentuckians have received their booster shot, and health care professionals have vaccinated 23,105 children between 5 and 11.
Beshear also explained that an updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria for attributing deaths related to COVID-19 would increase Kentucky’s 2020 pandemic death toll by 84. Officials reviewed data based on whether they met the new surveillance case definition.