unemployment line august 2020 louisville

Kentuckians lined up for unemployment insurance assistance at the UAW Local 862 union hall on Fern Valley Road in August 2020.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – After four months and about $12 million paid to an accounting firm on an emergency, no-bid contract, Kentucky is still treading water on unemployment claims.

In fact, the state’s backlog of unprocessed, initial jobless claims – about 80,000, state officials told lawmakers Thursday – is higher than when Gov. Andy Beshear first announced the state would bring in Ernst & Young LLP to help wade through the deluge of claims.

“The purpose is to get us caught up and get us caught up quickly,” Beshear said when announcing the firm’s initial, $7.6 million contract on June 30.

But on Thursday, Beshear Labor Cabinet Secretary Larry Roberts told lawmakers that, while the state has made progress, new claims keep piling up at a rate of 5,000 a day, adding to the backlog.

“I don’t recall that we’ve ever given a target date of when we thought we’d ever be caught up because of the number of claims that continue to be filed,” Roberts told the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment.

In June, Kentucky had about 56,000 untouched initial jobless claims dating to March, April and May. Now the backlog of about 80,000 includes claims from April to September. 

Roberts said the state is nonetheless satisfied with Ernst & Young’s work, saying the situation would be far worse without the firm’s help.

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He stressed that the state has processed a “just unbelievable” deluge of claims – more than 1 million since the pandemic restrictions began in March. Ernst & Young has handled about 160,000 of those, state officials said.

The Beshear administration has twice extended the firm’s contract, with the state now estimated to pay about $17 million in all for work through the end of year.

“I don’t know that we ever anticipated, Ernst & Young would ever solve the backlog. It would allow us to process a lot more claims than we had the ability to do on our own,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he was “pleased,” however, to report that Kentucky has reached a milestone: For the first time in the pandemic, every initial claim filed in March has been completed or is in process.

After two weeks of focused effort on the 7,330 remaining March claims, 4,095 were “worked through to completion” while 3,271 are in progress, meaning the claimant needs to provide information or an appeal is in process.

“We feel very confident that every March claim -- initial claim -- that was filed has been touched as of yesterday afternoon and there’s been some activity on that,” Roberts said.

At his daily media briefing, Beshear said the state would change how it measures the backlog, so that claims that may be filed today but are backdated to March are no longer considered "March claims." 

Going forward, Beshear said, the state will track unresolved claims by the date they were filed. But he provided no new figures during the briefing. 

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.