FRANKFORT, Ky. — In the wake of closures due to coronavirus that prompted layoffs and furloughs, Kentucky's unemployment rate soared from 4.2% in February to 15.4% by April 2020. The state's unemployment insurance system struggled to keep up with the influx of claims.
Gov. Andy Beshear said that dozens of people were turned away from unemployment offices Wednesday as they closed in Frankfort at 7 p.m. -- after they waited in line 10 hours in the sun.
"What an awful feeling that must have been," Beshear said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Those turned away were contacted Thursday morning, and 61 of the 67 who were turned away had their claims resolved as of 3:15 p.m., Beshear said.
On Thursday, Beshear said he wants to see better funding, more employees and more offices open to assist Kentuckians with pandemic and unenemployment assistance going forward.
"We had a system that was designed to tell you 'no,' ... hoping you wouldn't come back," Beshear said.
The number of unemployment offices around the state shrank from 51 to 29 in 2017, Beshear said. The system’s $41 million budget in 2010 was cut down to $25 million in 2018. Those offices are using a 20-year-old computer system to process hundreds of thousands of claims.
"I hope that we will never starve these systems again, that we will maintain and improve what we have, and that we realize that everybody needs a little help sometimes, and once in every 100 years, or more frequently, a whole lot of us need help really fast," Beshear said.
Meanwhile, the Team Kentucky Fund has given a total of $350,215 to 421 households since it was launched in March, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said Thursday.
Currently, 398 applications pending approval with documentation.
To donate or apply for vouchers to the Team Kentucky Fund, visit www.capky.org.
Ky. COVID-19 numbers
Kentucky reports 520 total coronavirus-related deaths out of 13,197 virus cases so far. More than 3,500 people have recovered from the virus, and the state has tested 336,267 people as of Thursday.
NKY Health reported that 1,494 people in Boone, Campbell, Kenton and Grant counties have tested positive for coronavirus since March and 76 people have died of the virus as of Monday.
In long term care facilities, 1,577 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 331 residents have died. In those facilities, 754 staff have contracted COVID-19 and three have died as of Thursday.
To find one of the 189 free coronavirus testing locations in Kentucky, click here.
Juneteenth may become state holiday
Beshear recommended Thursday that Juneteenth, the celebration of the end of slavery in America, become a state holiday.
The governor's proclamation to make June 19 "Juneteenth National Freedom Day" in Kentucky still needs approval from the state legislature in the next general assembly.
“I think it’s more and more important that we remind everybody -- everybody -- of this dark chap of our history and that its impacts continue to linger, and that we celebrate the dates that at least portions of it ended," Beshear said.
State health exchange
In order to combat inequality and inequity in healthcare, Beshear said Wednesday he wants transition to a state-based healthcare exchange beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
Beshear says the program would be similar to Kynect, which launched in 2013 and enrolled 500,000 newly eligible people in Medicaid coverage and Qualified Health Plans. Gov. Matt Bevin discontinued the program in 2017.
Beshear said Kentuckians would see reduced premium costs through the health exchange with greater flexibility and autonomy than the federal exchange, which had a 3% user fee that cost Kentuckians roughly $9.8 million per year.
Beshear sent a letter of intent to start work on this program to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Wednesday. Launching the state exchange will incur a one-time cost of $5 million for the system, with annual operating costs estimated between $1-2 million.
PPE for poll workers
Shortly before the briefing, his administration announced the state will supply masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and face shields to poll workers in all 120 counties ahead of the June 23 primary election.
“I encourage every Kentuckian to vote, which is their duty as an American, but we must take every precaution available to protect voters and poll workers exercising that fundamental right,” Beshear said in a news release. “We continue to take action to allow people to safely exercise their right to vote on Tuesday, including ensuring our poll workers have this protective gear.”
Beshear said 5,000 masks, 4,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 5,800 face shields and 20,000 gloves would be distributed.
The deadline to apply for a mail-in absentee ballot was June 15. For more information about voting in Kentucky, click here.
Pools can reopen June 29
On Tuesday, Beshear's administration released guidelines for safely reopening public pools and hosting gatherings of up to 50 people starting June 29.
Among the requirements for pool centers are social distancing and limited pool capacity. Any time their heads are above water, swimmers must maintain a distance of six feet from people who aren't from the same household. Seating at swimming facilities will also be spaced six feet apart, and pools are asked to encourage guests to bring their own seats whenever possible.
Many of the guidelines to host large events already apply to groups of 10 people or fewer, which have been allowed to resume in the commonwealth. Among the new guidelines are continuing to socially distance, wearing cloth masks, not sharing food or drinks and hosting events outside whenever possible.
See what else is reopening in Kentucky here.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below: