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Hundreds of "Tier 1" unemployment insurance workers were let go in May, here's why

Posted at 5:42 PM, Jun 30, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — In an effort to process an unprecedented number of unemployment claims due to the pandemic, the State contracted out hundreds of workers to help answer the phone lines at the UI call center in April.

Five-hundred people were contracted to answer the phones as "Tier 1" workers, but at the end of May, the contracted employees were all let go. Currently, the State has no tier 1 workers on staff.

In a statement, the State said, "As Kentucky transitions to Healthy at Work, our more experienced workers are needed for adjudication and processing complex claims. Tier 1 workers were not handling complex claims. When the contract ended, it was not renewed."

LEX 18 spoke to one of those contacted workers who said he wished the State had taken the time to train him and his fellow workers so they could process complex claims. However, he said they did not get the chance.

"It's easy I think to say that the state did make a mistake, but I think that it's also fair to entertain the notion that nobody knows what they're doing right now," the former worker who wants to remain anonymous, said. "It's all trial and error. It's all hit and miss and that was the experience that we had while we were also working."

While he was working for the State, he said he did feel like he was helping. He answered general questions like how much money they would be getting or whether the claim is under investigation.

"It was kind of a first line of defense for people calling in and asking us what's going on," he said.

The job, though, certainly had its limitations. He said about half of his callers needed to be transferred to Tier 2 or 3.

"They would either get frustrated or say you're useless," he said. "We spent a good amount of time being berated, being told that we weren't doing anything to help out."

He said if he and his coworkers were given the training or the tools to succeed, more people would have been able to get help.

"We were all in that same boat of we want to help more," he said. "There was probably about a group of 125 of us we were all communicating back and forth daily. We were all definitely interested in moving up to tier 2."

In his press conference Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that the state has entered into a contract with the accounting firm Ernst and Young. He said about 300 people will help the state catch up on the remaining March, April, and May unemployment claims by the end of July. Gov. Beshear said the contract was for $7.4 million and will be paid for by the CARES Act."

So far, 90% of the more than 900,000 unemployment claims the state has received since March have been successfully processed.

"No one in state government will be satisfied until all Kentuckians receive the benefits for which they qualify," the State said in a statement.