As Kentucky’s economy picks up steam, there is a new push for out-of-work Kentuckians to rejoin the workforce.
Starting Sunday, those who have been receiving unemployment insurance benefits will have to provide proof that they’re actively searching for work, a requirement that existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unemployed Kentuckians will now have to seek full-time employment and report at least one job contact per week. When requesting UI benefits bi-weekly, claimants will have to provide the name of the business, the title of the position, the name and title of the person contacted, the date of the contact and the method of contact.
According to the Claimant Guide for unemployment insurance benefits, unemployed Kentuckians are allowed a reasonable period of time to find work that is comparable in pay and skill level to their most recent employment. If the claimant is unable to find work, they must adjust their work search, which can include finding a job that pays less or is located further away from their home.
“This is a long-standing requirement that was waived for the pandemic,” General Counsel Amy Cubbage said at an April 22 press briefing. “There are a lot of jobs that are to be had.”
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce supports Gov. Andy Beshear’s decision to reinstate the search requirement since they believe it is a necessary step toward economic recovery.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe consequences for our state, citizens, business community and more,” Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts said in a statement Tuesday. “As we see success with vaccinations and begin to reach a new sense of normalcy, it is time to get Kentucky back to work.”
The chamber is seeing a mismatch between the supply of employees and the demand of employers, said Beth Davisson, the group’s vice president of workforce.
“We’re in a situation where our economic recovery is taking off but the return to work is not there yet,” Davisson said. “I do think the work search requirement will help with that when we see that get turned back on Sunday to help really encourage workers to go back.”
The state’s rate of workforce participation has dropped during the pandemic. Kentucky is 48th in the country, Davisson said. At one point during the shutdown, 250,000 Kentuckians had exited the workforce and stopped looking for work, she said.
Davisson said vaccinations will also encourage Kentuckians to return to work, since it will improve the safety of the workplace and the community.
According to the state Labor Cabinet, about 670,000 unemployment claims have been paid out since the beginning of the pandemic and more than 58,000 claims remain pending. Officials have said many of the pending claims are believed to be fraudulent.
Employers are eager to hire, Davisson said. One restaurant in Louisville is paying $19 an hour for servers, and some fast-food restaurants are offering a free breakfast sandwich or $50 for those who apply.
The chamber created a “Who’s Hiring” program last March to help with job search in the midst of the pandemic. More than 98,000 positions have been posted from across the state, including many by “fair-chance employers.”
Kentucky Career Center locations can also provide career counseling for those seeking a job. Since reopening April 15, more than 12,000 Kentuckians have made appointments to get problems with unemployment insurance benefits resolved and help with a job search, according to the state Labor Cabinet.
Kristy Blanton, of Harlan, was one of them. She drove three hours to Morehead on Tuesday to resolve an issue with receiving her unemployment insurance benefits. Blanton was laid off as a legal secretary in April 2020.
She said the career center representative was very diligent, and on Thursday morning, she began receiving her benefits once again. The representative alerted Blanton about the upcoming work search requirement.
Blanton said she has applied for 100 positions in customer service in and around Harlan. She was on her way to a job interview Thursday afternoon.
“It’s tight,” Blanton said. “It’s a tough place to find work right now.”
Blanton said she is eager but also concerned about returning to work. Her parents and her high school-aged daughter have medical issues. She is diabetic.
“We got to do what we got to do though,” Blanton said.