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How an already taxed Kentucky unemployment system was crippled by the pandemic

Here's how to get an online appointment
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Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 11:18:32-05

“It was a recipe for disaster," said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear about the situation Kentucky’s unemployment system was in when the pandemic hit, “and now like any disaster it is taking us time to dig out of.”

These words ring true for Terry Mahurin, who lost his job in Florence amid the pandemic and has struggled to get his unemployment benefits since June after countless emails and calls.

“I called every day several times a day," Mahurin said. "One day I waited five hours on the line and finally someone picked up the phone but then they hung up."

It was not until Mahurin drove to the Kentucky Career Center office in Covington and waited for someone to go in that Mahurin said he finally found someone -- who knew someone -- that could get him some help.

Beshear said in an interview with WCPO 9’s fellow Scripps station WLEX in Lexington that he knows many people feel like giving up.

“They set this thing up to tell people no, to frustrate them, to make a ton of hurdles to where even people that needed it would often times say it’s too complex, and that is pre-pandemic,” Beshear said.

Beshear said the state went into the pandemic with a very old unemployment IT system.

“It runs on a structure that is older than DOS," Beshear said. "It is older than I am. It was put into place in its current form the year I graduated from college and the failure to upgrade that decade after decade after decade has led to a lot of hardships for people."

Beshear said Kentucky’s historically low unemployment before the pandemic led to its regional offices closing and reduced staffing years ago. He said the pandemic did not just lead to a huge surge in legitimate claims, but also in fraudulent ones.

“These are cyber attacks, where one person is trying to file five thousand and see what sticks,” Beshear said. "Unfortunately, it means we often have to work through and dig through those to get to the valid claim.”

Working with the federal government, Beshear said the state of Kentucky now has systems upgrades and is adding staff with the goal of opening back up regional offices.

The governor said people can now set up virtual meetings.

To set up a virtual meeting, go to kcc.ky.gov, click on the gold button that says “View Services,” then under the section that says “Unemployment Insurance Appointments by Phone," click on the green button that says “Schedule an Appointment.”

“The other thing that we’d ask is that everybody carry with and answer their phone and check their email that they used to sign up,” Beshear said. “We still have about 20-30 percent of our calls when people are reaching out that we’re not getting somebody picking up. That can really help us to help other people."

Terry Mahurin and his wife, Elaine, said they feel blessed their family can still get bills paid, but worry about others’ kids who are really suffering. WCPO 9 News has received hundreds of calls and emails from people who say they have not been able to get their much-needed benefits.

“I contacted you and I was really elated that I heard from you,” Elaine Mahurin said. “And I just think it’s a travesty that the country that we live in, that people are struggling to get what is owed them."

The Kentucky Labor Cabinet reports the Commonwealth has processed more than 90 percent of claims, paying out more than $3.39 billion since last March.

The Rebound is a resource to help our community make it to the other side of the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. If you have a question or story idea, email us at therebound@wcpo.com.

Click here to join the Facebook group Getting a Job in the Cincinnati Area, where you can connect to other job seekers and employers around the area.

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Click here or call (877) 644-6562 for information about unemployment benefits in Ohio.

Click here or call (877) 369-5984 for information about unemployment benefits in Kentucky.

Click here or call 1-800-891-6499 for information about unemployment benefits in Indiana.