Unemployment benefits

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky lawmakers are pre-filing a bill this month that domestic violence advocates say could save lives.

Co-sponsors Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, and Rep. Samara Heavrin, D-Leitchfield, are renewing a version of last year's House Bill 78 that allows people fleeing abuse have access to unemployment benefits.

"This is a lifeline," Kulkarni said. "If they're able to apply for unemployment, it would allow them a little bit of a cushion. So they are still able to meet their financial needs until they're able to secure safer employment elsewhere."

Elizabeth Wessels-Martin, president and CEO of The Center for Women and Families, said it would help tremendously.

"We have the 79-bed shelter, but that's not going to save everybody," she said. "What people need is resources and to begin with. They need financial resources to be able to get somewhere safe."

The Kentucky representatives have also been working with the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence (KCADV) to draft the bill. Meg Savage, chief legal officer for KCADV, said helping with finances gives power back to the abuse survivor.

"We really need to make sure that when we tell survivors of violence that they need to leave an abusive relationship that we're ready to back that up by having appropriate laws in place that make it easier for them to do so," Savage said.

The KCADV said there's been an uptick in domestic violence because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Wessels-Martin agrees that's the case in Louisville, too.

"Being isolated with your perpetrator — being quarantined with somebody who abuses you over a long period of time as the stress and other factors such as unemployment have gone up — it just sets them up to be much more of a victim in an already violent situation," Wessels-Martin said.

Kulkarni said it should not drastically impact the unemployment office, which had its own issues in the last year and a half.

"We're not anticipating that ... because it's not going to be all at once," she said, citing how this has worked in other states.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 39 other states include a provision for those fleeing domestic violence as an accepted reason to apply for unemployment.

The bill was already discussed in a joint committee meeting at the end of September. Kulkarni said she's hopeful for change in the upcoming legislative session considering there's bi-partisan support in the House.

"We may have support for this bill in the House, but it's also got to pass through the Senate," she said. "And so if you are supportive of a bill like this, please make sure that your representatives and your senators know that you support it and how you want them to vote."

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