MADISON COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Thousands of Kentuckians are still struggling to get their unemployment benefits. Officials from the Labor Cabinet told the Legislature's Unemployment Insurance Reform Task Force on Tuesday they're working to address around 80,000 individual claims in their backlog.
In addition to a dated system that they're spending $47 million to change out, Jamie Link told lawmakers that issues stemmed from a lack of employees. Their call center has 35 employees and four openings.
"We are facing the same challenges that many, if not most, employers across the commonwealth are facing. We are currently evaluating our pay scales and looking at the ways- we're constantly advertising open positions, and we're not getting any responses to that or very few responses," said Link. "We're exploring not only ways to improve how we can hire more people but also looking at virtual and other technology solutions that we can address the claimant's needs in the best way possible."
Charlene Abshire and her son Kyle Condu hope their benefits come any day now. There were both let go from their jobs a week apart and are nearly out of money.
"Our companies paid into this, and this is something that was owed to us. In a case like this, it has criteria in there, and we fit that criterion. So, there's no reason that we shouldn't have that money that's owed to us. It's like if you went to the bank and they deposited money into your account, you had your money deposited, but the bank said our systems are broken, you can't take it," said Abshire.
Abshire worked at a college, while Condu worked as a welder. He's since found another job but can't start until a month-long background check is complete. He was hoping unemployment benefits would hold him over until then.
"I'm just doing whatever I can to get by right now. I've been [selling] my own plasma to make a little bit of cash on the side. But yeah, it's been rough. I mean, I got a truck payment coming up, and I don't know how I'm going to pay," said Condu.
The challenge their facing is trying to get a hold of someone who can resolve their cases.
"There's a lot of phone numbers to call within the website, but they all tell you that you'll have to try back later; there's no number to call that you can reach anybody," said Condu.
Do you need help with unemployment?
As of 5:00 p.m. Thursday, the Unemployment Insurance office did not respond to our request for comment.
However, earlier this month, they told us claimants should continue calling their call center at (502) 564-2900 to speak with a UI representative who may assist them.
LEX 18 called several times on Thursday. A recording said all agents were assisting other callers, and the call ended.
Officials also told us claimants should set up an in-person appointment. Abshire traveled 10 hours round-trip to a regional office for an in-person appointment, and the agent couldn't fix her claim.
"I feel very frustrated because I feel like all communication is shut off with us. We can't communicate with anybody. I have that money there that's available to me, but I can't get that. I'm running out of money right now. I don't have the money to buy things like food and gas," said Abshire.
Eight months ago, the state auditor discovered 400,000 emails that were sent to the unemployment office and ignored. Interim Executive Director Buddy Hoskinson says around 127,000 were unique requests. Of that number, they're still working to resolve 24,000 emailed issues.
From March 2020 to September 2021, UI officials say they have received more than 2.4 million claims for unemployment insurance and have compared the number to 10 years of work.
They say they've helped 56,000 people with claims and took 90,000 phone calls from April 15 to September 24.
We don't know if those were all resolved or when all current claims would be paid out.