Patricia Short and Beshear

Gov. Andy Beshear introduced Patricia Short and her husband Gary at a news conference July 2. Short became Kentucky's first "Shot at a million" vaccination lottery winner.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Before she became a millionaire on Friday, the winner of Kentucky’s first COVID-19 vaccination lottery had a story all-too-common in the Bluegrass State: She struggled to navigate the unemployment insurance system.

Patricia Short, of the Lexington area, told news station WLEX-TV in January that she and her husband, Gary, had been pushed to the financial brink after her gig-economy work fell apart in the pandemic, and she never received payments on her unemployment claim filed in July 2020.

The couple was “sleeping on a friend’s floor, unable to afford their own place on her husband’s retirement,” LEX-18 reported in January.

Kentucky has a backlog of at least 122,578 first-time unemployment claims filed from March 2020 through April 2021, according to the latest available state figures.

The state’s decades-old computer system was woefully outmatched amid a surge in claims during the pandemic, and Gov. Andy Beshear has blamed his predecessor for leaving the unemployment office short-staffed.

Short’s struggle with the unemployment system wasn’t mentioned Friday, when Beshear surprised her and Gary with an oversized faux check for $1 million and announced her winnings during a news conference in Frankfort.

During brief remarks, Short fought back tears and urged others to get vaccinated.

Short could not be reached immediately for comment. LEX-18 confirmed the connection in a Facebook post on Friday:

During a promotional video shot Friday by the governor’s office, the couple marveled at their luck.

“Think about it, this doesn’t happen,” Patricia Short said.

Her husband replied, “It does in Kentucky.”

More than 608,000 Kentuckians entered to win $1 million or full-ride scholarships to a Kentucky public college, university, technical or trade school.

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