FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — 2020: The year Kentucky's archaic unemployment system fell apart, tens of thousands of people were left in limbo waiting for their benefits. Some still haven't received their payments.
But others got immediate attention, including Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman's hairdresser, as revealed in her text messages. Last year, Coleman asked top unemployment administrators to help people she knew.
In May, Coleman said no one received special treatment telling LEX 18, "I called every single person that reached out to me about unemployment insurance whether I knew them or not, and I'll tell you I knew a lot fewer people than I did know." She said she helped thousands and added, "the emails are endless."
LEX 18 submitted open records requests to see the emails and text messages Coleman says she sent to top unemployment officials to try and help the unemployed who reached out to her.
We received 17 pages of emails and text messages between Coleman and other unemployment officials. The state did not provide UI assistance information that may have been on her private phone and email accounts.
They include conversations between Coleman and the cabinet's commissioner. In them, she asks him and others to look into unresolved claims brought to her attention, writing: "Can you take this? Can you follow up on this? Flagging for you."
According to some of the emails, she got results. One person thanked the commissioner and wrote "Please tell the Lt. Gov. we do appreciate her help as well."
Briana Strickland, of Lexington, is one of the hundreds of Kentuckians still fighting for her benefits. She says after finally receiving her payments, the state notified her by a letter stating she was overpaid.
"I'm doing the best I can trying to stay positive, this has just been horrible," said Strickland who would like Coleman to fast-track her unresolved case.
"I don't know too many people who have a good story about getting unemployment through Kentucky, where are these thousands of people that she helped?" said Strickland. "She might have helped people but what about me and people in worse situations? It's not about what you know; it's about who you know."
As reported, Lt. Governor Coleman told us she never gave special treatment, explaining she's a public official who tries to help everyone.
"WLEX18's story is based on select information from messages sent to only two individuals, one of whom only worked for the office for a brief time during this period," said JT Henderson, Executive Director of Communications for Lt. Gov. Coleman's office when we reached out for comment. "The Lieutenant Governor followed the process in place to direct requests from constituents, the media including WLEX18, state legislators and local officials to staff at the Office of Unemployment Insurance, who were trained to handle claims."
And we want to point out, we're not sure if Coleman's hairdresser ever received her unemployment benefits, but we do know that hundreds of others are still waiting for theirs.
"During these trying times with a starved and antiquated system designed to deny Kentucky workers, everyone did what they could to help those reaching out in need of help," said Henderson. "No one in state government will rest until all eligible Kentuckians have received their benefits."
Coleman's office also provided this background information, for context:
"The previous administration, and legislators during previous sessions, closed in-person offices and cut 95 skilled employees from unemployment insurance. In addition, the UI budget was slashed by $16 million. This, coupled with an once-in-a-lifetime, 1,300% year-over-year increase in claims meant many Kentuckians have had to wait too long during a difficult time for their payments.
In 2017, the previous administration closed more than 30 of the state’s 51 regional career centers, which provided job training and in-person assistance for unemployment insurance claims. The previous administration not only closed career centers, but also removed in-person unemployment services from the remaining centers so there was no in-person assistance and a 12-person call center was the only option for those in need of assistance with claims."