FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 19, 2020) — Today, at the state Capitol, Gov. Andy Beshear announced his administration is working to speed up unemployment insurance claims and is recovering thousands overpaid to deceased workers compensation fund beneficiaries. Both actions improve operations so that state government better serves Kentucky families.
Dedicated unemployment insurance staff at career centers
Gov. Beshear said, he and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who also serves as Education and Workforce Development secretary, had the state retrain current staff in the state’s 12 local Kentucky Career Centers (KCC) to help Kentuckians who need to obtain unemployment insurance assistance.
“In times of need, Kentuckians should be able to quickly talk with someone who can help them,” said Gov. Beshear. “Jacqueline and I knew more needed to be done to help families struggling so we took action. We have now trained current employees on how to process unemployment insurance claims, which has decreased wait times on the help line and is allowing us to provide the face-to-face customer service Kentuckians want and deserve. Since the change last week, staff has helped over 1,000 customers and call wait times have seen a 50% decrease.”
Lt. Gov. Coleman said, as our new administration took office, it became clear that Kentuckians were not getting the help they deserved and we took steps to begin improving services.
“We are committed to evaluating the processes and using all available resources to bring the wait times down even further,” said Lt. Gov. Coleman. “We understand that people who are utilizing UI services are already experiencing set-backs that have put them in a position to need help. Our job is to make sure the process is as efficient as possible so they can access services to assist them through a difficult period. We will continue to develop streamlined services within the UI system.”
In 2017, the former administration removed unemployment insurance customer service staff from the local career centers and began requiring those needing help to email or call Frankfort to request benefits.
Gov. Beshear said Kentuckians can also continue to receive unemployment help over the phone or via email and that the administration is continuing to develop more ways to serve Kentuckians better moving forward.
In addition to this stopgap measure, Gov. Beshear plans to increase the number of local staff in the centers who can assist customers in person and start an online chat option on the website where people fill out applications and request benefits. Beginning in March, approximately five staff members will be available on the live chat feature to answer questions or provide assistance with the claims process.
“The live chat option will assist customers with their questions in real time before they make a mistake which could potentially hold up their claim,” said Josh Benton, deputy secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. “We are working to ensure we are doing our part to help support quality education, good paying jobs and Kentuckians in times of need.”
Recovering overpayment from Labor Cabinet’s special fund
Gov. Beshear released a report outlining actions his administration is taking to recover more than $560,000 in workers compensation special funds that were overpaid to individuals that had passed away.
Gov. Beshear said the overpayments were discovered in April 2019, as a result of the Labor Cabinet’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation into allegations of theft and mismanagement of funds via the Division of Workers’ Compensation Funds (special fund) and mismanagement of federal and restricted funds in the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health program.
While the final November 2019, OIG report found no employee fraud or misappropriations, the OIG determined numerous areas of mismanagement and, by the time Gov. Beshear took office, no attempts had been made to recoup the payments.
“My administration is working to correct the overall problem,” Gov. Beshear said. “In order to protect the integrity of the special fund, my administration is committed to aggressively recovering all of the overpaid funds.”
Currently, compensation income benefits are paid to special fund claimants from the special fund account administered by the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Funding Commission. Special funds are generated by an assessment on workers compensation premiums and benefits are not paid from the state’s General Fund.
The fund currently pays bi-weekly benefits to 4,017 claimants in the total sum of $1.6 million, yielding an annual payout of approximately $42 million. Overpayment of benefits generally occurs when the special fund is not timely notified, or does not learn independently, of a beneficiary’s death.
Since the appointment of Secretary Larry Roberts and Inspector General Mike Wright in December of 2019, the OIG has investigated and identified $252,595.12 in overpayments that are recoverable, providing banking information, account balances and contact information to the Department of Workers’ Claims. Over $85,000 in overpayments have already been recovered.
The special fund still has overpayments amounting to $309,978.71 that remain to be investigated and recouped through the combined efforts of OIG and the Department of Workers’ Claims.
Since taking office, Gov. Beshear has taken action to improve government operations and transparency, including reestablishing a state board that sets workplace safety regulations and providing the proposed pension reform analysis long withheld by the former administration.