Alfred Osborne unemployment

Alfred Osborne, 62, in his dining room in Louisville's Shawnee neighborhood, April 7, 2021.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – His car got busted by highway debris and he has no insurance coverage for it. He’s borrowed nearly $2,000 from his sisters. He worries about keeping up with the mortgage.

But on Wednesday, 62-year-old Alfred Osborne felt pretty lucky.

“I play the horses too. It’s like the Derby,” an elated Osborne said while sitting in front of a laptop in the dining area of his house in west Louisville’s Shawnee neighborhood.

With a news team watching, Osborne was able to snag one of the first appointments available on April 15 at the state employment office in downtown Louisville.

Like tens of thousands in Kentucky, Osborne needs help with his unemployment claim. The $318 weekly benefit he had received from July through December suddenly stopped around the new year.

The Louisville office and 12 others around the state will reopen for the first time since the pandemic began on April 15, providing desperate people like Osborne an avenue to get their unemployment claims straightened out.

Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has kept the state offices for fear of spreading COVID-19. Claimants like Osborne have been able to get only via scheduled phone calls, which are scarce and hard to book.

But even before the pandemic, state offices were not handling unemployment insurance issues, Beshear’s administration said.

In-person unemployment service was removed in 2017 when the administration of former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin reassigned more than 90 unemployment staff people to other roles in state government, eliminating those positions and resulting in the closure of about 30 of the state's 50 offices, according to Beshear’s Labor Cabinet.

Until in-person appointments were open to scheduling Wednesday, the only way for Kentucky residents to get help with unemployment issues was through a phone call, which has to be scheduled weeks in advance.

But phone appointments have been notoriously hard to come by. The online scheduling tool routinely shows none available.

Following a WDRB report last month about people snagging appointments right at midnight, Osborne said he stayed up late several nights the past week, but he still wasn’t able to get a phone appointment.

On Wednesday, he was one of the first people to book a time at the state office at 6th and Cedar Streets downtown. The scheduling tool showed 228 available appointments. Within an hour, it was down to 45. Within three hours, the offices in Louisville and Lexington were completely booked. As of 4:15 pm, appointments were still available at the 11 other offices. 

There’s no guarantee that Osborne, a union laborer, will get his claim straightened out when he visits the state office in Louisville on April 15.

But after writing letters in vain to Beshear and several other elected officials – Osborne keeps a log of the people he’s asked for help – simply making the appointment on Wednesday brought him a new sense of hope.

“I feel a lot better,” he said. “Like my dad said, now we’re cooking with gas.”

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.