Investigations

Kentucky Senate Republicans intend to file a bill that would prevent the unemployment office from “clawing back” money mistakenly paid to people who self-quarantined.

Republican leadership announced the plan at a press conference last week, where they discussed concerns with Gov. Andy Beshear’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those concerns were missteps in the unemployment insurance program that led the state to pay, then seek to recoup, benefits for people who felt they had a reasonable fear of catching the virus at work. Beshear said during a March briefing that they would be eligible, and the unemployment office has since backtracked on that offer, blaming the confusion on shifting guidance from the federal government. 

Sen. Mike Nemes, a Republican from Shepherdsville, said that billing people for unemployment benefits they had already received based on the word of the governor is unfair.

“These people don’t have that money. They paid for groceries, they used the money,” Nemes said. “That’s what unemployment is for. When you are unemployed you get your unemployment insurance and you pay your bills so you can get back to work.”

Senate President Pro Temore David Givens, a Republican from Greensburg, said he is working with staff to write legislation to protect individuals in this situation.

Givens and the Senate Republican spokesperson did not respond to questions about the proposed legislation.

At the press conference, Givens said the governor “got over his skis” by telling people they would be eligible for unemployment benefits based on criteria that was rolled back retroactively.

The legislators also expressed concern for what turmoil in the unemployment office will mean for Kentucky’s business community. The unemployment insurance trust fund required an $865 million loan from the federal government in June as Kentucky was paying out a record number of unemployment claims.

Businesses in Kentucky may face a higher tax rate to refill the trust fund and an extra fee to pay back that federal loan. 

Givens called on the governor to use CARES Act funds to keep the trust fund solvent without pushing the burden onto the business community.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

But at his daily briefing Monday evening, Beshear said his administration had requested a waiver from the Department of Labor to address the issue, but that the federal government has so far signaled it was unreceptive to that idea.

Beshear said he would support a legislative fix to protect people from overpayment debt. “Yes, we can’t simply waive it as an executive branch but if the legislative branch does it, I’m fully for it,” Beshear said.

UPDATE: The governor’s office did not respond to KyCIR’s request for comment, but this story has been updated to include the statement given at Beshear’s daily briefing.