(LEX 18) — As the country continues to take steps to fight the coronavirus, unemployment numbers have reached record highs. Here in Kentucky, thousands are applying for unemployment insurance at the same time, which is overloading the system.
According to the Department of Labor, 112,726 unemployment claims were filed in Kentucky during the week that ended on March 28th. The week before that, 49,023 unemployment claims were filed.
This is a huge increase from the normal number of claims Kentucky typically gets. Before the coronavirus, the state processed about 2,000 claims on an average week.
This increase has cause thousands of more calls to the unemployment insurance call center.
Josh Benton, Kentucky's deputy secretary of the Education & Workforce Development Cabinet, says they have already added more staff members to handle the call center, but will add more by the end of the week.
"We have been actively training and adding staff daily. Our goal by the end of this week is to be around 1,000 to 1,200 people on the call center line," said Benton. "That is up from 12 (people) three weeks ago. On a normal, average period of time, we have 12 people on the call center line. So we're ramping up to 1,000 to 1,200. If we need more, we'll add more."
Benton also encourages people to try to use the state's revamped website, kcc.ky.gov, first. He says there is a lot of information on there that could cut down some of the calls. However, he understands that some people need to call.
"We know people are trying to call in - specifically those who need to call in in order to, maybe, reset a pin number or just general help with their application," said Benton.
Another UI issue Benton addressed were denial letters that were accidentally sent out to people who typically don't qualify for unemployment, like independent contractors and people who are self-employed. Kentucky is allowing people in this category to receive unemployment insurance right now, despite what the letters said.
"We know that several of those individuals that did not typically qualify may have received a denial letter last week or the first part of this week. We stopped as many of those that we could before they went out, but some still got out. If you received that, it can be disregarded," said Benton. "It's something that is automatically generated and you may actually receive your first payment before you receive your approval letter. We went ahead and processed payment for those who qualified, but we know that caused some confusion. We apologize for that and no one should be getting those denial letters."
Benton also wants to remind everyone that first payments do not need to be requested by most people. They are automatic.
"Your first payment is going to be automatic. You don't have to request payment. Going forward - the second payment - you can request," said Benton. "But the first one is automatic. Except for those folks whose companies were e-claims. Follow the instructions that your company provided you and they will tell you how to claim your payment."
People in Kentucky who are on unemployment will soon also receive an additional $600 a week because of the federal coronavirus stimulus bill. However, those funds have not yet made it to Kentucky.
"Everybody is waiting on the $600 that will be added to the weekly benefit," said Benton. "So are we. We're waiting on that funding stream from the federal government. We're hopeful it will be this week. As soon as we get it, we will start those payments."
You can apply for unemployment online or by phone at 502-875-0442.