Kentucky has the third highest increase in unemployment claims nationally ━ according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of labor ━ with 9,172 new filings. 

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with state business officials Monday to talk about Kentucky’s post-pandemic economic recovery. He said the extra $300 in federal benefits is the reason fewer people are returning to the workforce.

“There’s no question that we’d be in better shape if the governor had made a decision to discontinue the federal bonus as 25 other states have,” McConnell said. “I was on a conference call with a group of companies ━ some in Kentucky and some in Indiana ━ and they reported that when the Indiana governor discontinued the extra $300 [per] week bonus, the next day, they got 200 job applications.”

In May, some state union leaders and nonprofits urged Gov. Andy Beshear to keep the additional subsidy. In a letter, they said it’s helped people who’ve been laid off or had trouble finding work during the pandemic. 

Sarah Davasher-Wisdom is president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro Chamber of Commerce. She echoed McConnell’s message, but also added that a lack of child care services has also contributed to Kentucky’s employee shortage. 

“We saw during the pandemic that about 8% of the child care centers closed throughout the state,” Davasher-Wisdom said. “As childcare centers are trying to reopen, we’re seeing that they’re facing some of those same workforce challenges that our businesses are facing. Our community, our region is greatly impacted by the pandemic because we rely on a multitude of industries to really drive our economy forward.” 

Beshear recently announced two federally-backed efforts to aid in the state’s economic recovery. One is a $1,500 back-to-work incentive ━ another would bolster the child care industry so parents can return to work.

At Monday’s press event, McConnell also touted the COVID-19 vaccine and urged anyone on the fence to get their shots.

“I was a polio victim when I was a kid. It took 70 years to develop a polio vaccine, two of them, that worked. Our country, as a result of the CARES Act and the $50 billion we put into Operation Warp Speed, developed not one, not two, but three highly effective vaccines in less than a year,” McConnell said.

He added that the federal efforts to develop and make the vaccines publicly available are useless if people don’t get them. 

Twenty one percent of Americans say they definitely won’t be getting vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Seventy-three percent of that group  self-identify as Republican. In Kentucky, a little less than half of the population has had at-least one shot. Health officials said last week that all of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 were unvaccinated. 

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.