Storm damage slows unemployment benefits work in eastern Kentucky

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Unemployment claim form via MGN Online

EASTERN KENTUCKY (WTVQ) – If an outdated system trying to handle an unimaginable number of claims wasn’t enough, the state’s unemployment insurance system in eastern Kentucky has a new problem – storm damage.

The storms that ripped through a dozen counties Sunday night and early Monday left many residents without power. That meant some state employees who were working from home because of coronavirus safety measures couldn’t work.

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The state has one of the countries oldest computer systems handling claims and it has been overwhelmed by the record number of people filing for benefits. The state has hired more than 1,200 people to answer phone lines and process claims but still has lagged behind.

Sunday alone, it sent checks totaling more than $54 million to more than 100,000 beneficiaries.

What follows is a statement issued Monday by the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program to the residents of the 23 counties served by the district:

“With regard to our new 1-888-297-7054 toll-free hotline for questions in Eastern Kentucky about Unemployment Insurance (UI) and workforce services, we realize you are frustrated our new hotline number is not working as intended, starting today. We are frustrated as well.

“The fact of the matter is that this new call system allows our region’s workforce staff to work remotely, as our local workforce development offices are currently closed due to executive orders from the governor. When that call system works as designed, we will be able to handle our region’s calls for assistance with UI filings and questions much better than we previously were with just calls coming into our local offices throughout our 23-county workforce area.

“However, the extreme weather and straight-line winds that hit numerous counties in the region last night have left a very high percentage of our workforce staff in the region without power OR internet access — both of which are required for this new call system to function as designed. This affects many of our office locations as well, so we do not even have the option (if it were possible) to send, on an emergency basis, a small number of staff to offices to handle current calls on the system.

“Like anyone else, we are at the mercy of power companies as to when power can be restored, and internet service providers as to when damaged systems can be repaired. Like you, we are part of that unprecedented number of nearly 65,000 locations, businesses and residences currently without power in Eastern Kentucky.

“We want to do better, and we want to do better for you because you deserve it. But we ask for your patience as crews work to restore power and internet access to key parts of our region so that our new call system can function as designed, and we can get back to providing you the level of service you expect and deserve in a time of crisis for our region, state, and nation.

“Please bear with us, and please do keep our hotline number of 1-888-297-7054. We hope to get back to answering your critical calls as soon as we are able to get our capacity to do so back once power and internet services is restored. Once we have updates on when things start going back online for our system, we will post those updates here.

“If you must connect with someone for assistance sooner with regard to UI, you may access those means of contact through the statewide Kentucky Career Center UI website, kcc.ky.gov/Pages/default.aspx.”