Unemployment protest turns into help session

Posted at 7:13 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 19:15:12-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A group of Kentuckians scheduled a rally at the Capitol Tuesday to demand solutions for their unemployment insurance woes, but after they arrived, they quickly shifted their attention from protesting to getting help with their claims.

When they arrived, demonstrators saw a sign outside the Capitol which said UI staff were available from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. to assist people in-person.

Misty Guitan, a single mother of two, who originally came to protest, was suspicious of the invitation at first. She said she is distrustful because she has not received a single UI payment since she was forced to leave both of her jobs in April after running out of childcare options, and now her bills are piling up.

"It's stressful and a little terrifying because you don't what the next step is," Guitan said. "You have everybody calling you or knocking on your door, wanting you to pay bills, and they want an answer, but I don't have an answer to give them because I don't have an answer from the unemployment office."

She eventually decided to go inside and she left with some exciting news from a UI staff member.

"She said just keep an eye on my account and then it should tell me when I can start requesting back payment," Guitan said.

As more people started to show up, eventually leading to a long line outside the Education Center, Guitan said she was glad the help session was helping so many people get answers.

Expectant mother, Kesli Stewart, also had a positive experience.

"They fixed my unemployment in like three minutes!" Stewart exclaimed.

However, not everyone was as lucky, like protest organizer Christina Foley.

"They don't know what's going to happen," Foley said. "They said it was going to take some time and they'll figure it out and let us know."

Even for those who have made progress, they tell LEX 18 that they are cautiously optimistic that they will actually receive a payment.

"She said I can request in two days," Stewart said. "Tomorrow it will process, but we'll see. I have no hopes still until I see it. I mean I don't know. It's a fussy system so we'll see."

According to the State, it has received unprecedented 850,000+ claims since the COVID-19 crisis began in early March. Ninety percent of the claims have been processed and more than $2.42 billion has been paid to eligible Kentuckians.

However, the State said there are currently more than 50,000 remaining insurance claims. That includes 7,500 from March filers, 27,000 from April, and 17,000 from May.

In a statement, the State said, "No one in state government will be satisfied until every Kentuckian receives all the benefits for which they qualify."

To address its issues, OUI is moving to the Labor Cabinet, which the State said will "deliver better customer service for claimants and provide mission alignment between OUI and the Labor Cabinet."

OUI currently has about 350 state employees working to process claims.

In a statement, the Labor Cabinet said, "The COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for unemployment insurance across the country and in Kentucky. The virus has made it difficult to help Kentuckians in person, but today we were able to provide about 10 Office of Unemployment Insurance staff to assist with claims at the Capitol Education Center. We wanted to help those who visited the Capitol today and reports indicate that many received assistance with their claim."