LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Gov. Andy Beshear is offering Kentuckians a one-time, $1,500 payment to stop claiming unemployment benefits and return to work.

Beshear said the bonus program is a compromise meant to get Kentuckians off the sidelines while also resisting calls from employers and Republicans to end the federal $300 weekly supplement to jobless claims.

“This is supposed to be surgical,” Beshear said at a news conference Thursday. “It’s supposed to address the concern that those $300 extra benefits are keeping people out of the workforce.”

Beshear listed the qualifications for the program, which is limited to the first 15,000 recipients:

- Must be a Kentucky resident at least 18 years old

- Must have an active, nonfraudulent Kentucky unemployment claim as of June 23, 2021 and have requested payments on the claim in 2021

- Begin employment at “a Kentucky business” from June 24 through July 30, 2021. Beshear said that is an employer who does business in Kentucky.

- Work at least 120 hours in the four weeks following accepting employment

Beshear's administration launched a website for the program on Thursday.

Beshear said employers will be asked to verify the details of the employee’s job status, with a failsafe for people whose employers won’t provide the information.

Recipients cannot apply for the $1,500 until Aug. 2, after which their employer will be asked to verify their employment. Applications can be made through Oct. 1 or until the money is exhausted. 

While self-employed people, gig workers and contractors have been eligible for unemployment payments through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, people who receive the $1,500 bonus must be regular employees.

Beshear said he arrived at $1,500 because it represents five weeks of the $300 unemployment supplement, which is scheduled to end Sept. 6 in states like Kentucky that haven’t opted out.

Given the looming end of the federal program, Beshear said $1,500 should be a “strong incentive” to return to work.

But business groups like the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Greater Louisville Inc., the local chamber of commerce, have called on Beshear to end the federal unemployment programs altogether, saying employers are unable to compete with the government to lure workers to jobs.

Twenty five states, all led by Republicans, have said they will end at least one of the federal unemployment programs before they expire nationally. 

Beshear has resisted those calls, saying the jobless aid pumps $34 million a week into Kentucky's economy, money that is spent at grocery stores and restaurants.

Kentucky pays average unemployment benefit of $352 per week as of March, according to state statistics. With the federal payment of $300 on top, that's the equivalent of about $16 per hour for a fulltime work week.

Beshear has earmarked $22.5 million of federal COVID-19 money for the program.

Kentucky is not the first state to use federal virus aid for a return-to-work incentive. 

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey announced his state would stop taking the federal jobless benefits in July, instead offering up to $2,000 to people who stop claiming unemployment benefits and complete 10 weeks of work.

In Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont is continuing the state’s participation in the federal benefits programs while also offering $1,000 for long-term unemployed people who complete eight consecutive weeks of fulltime work.

In a statement Thursday, Greater Louisville Inc. CEO Sarah Davasher-Wisdom applauded the back-to-work incentive but repeated the group's call to end the $300 federal supplement before it expires Sept. 6, "to ensure our businesses have the staffing needed to fully reopen and rebound from a challenging year."

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