Unemployment push success, budget improves, new business expansion

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Hiring an outside firm to provide help catching up the remaining backlog of unemployment claims is beginning to pay dividends, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

And positive news on the state’s budget forecasts and economic development announcements provided some good news as the state imposed mandatory masks in public (see related story).

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The state has more than tripled its work force handling unemployment claims from March, April and May with 220 Ernest and Young employees pushing the total working on processing to 320, Beshear said during a briefing.

The Ernest and Young workers, who started this week, still are getting caught up on processes but are making between 15 and 20 calls a day to people with old claims.

“You can see how that will add up pretty quickly,” the governor said, noting one problem is people not answering their phones.

Also, in-person visits at two sites last week handled more than 2,100 cases and so far this week, 1,000 each have been handled in Somerset and Hopkinsville. Another 4,600 have been handled through in-person visits in Frankfort.

“We want to get caught up, we still believe we can by the end of this month. We hope it is improving dramatically very quickly he said, referring to the 56,000 cases that still remained unfinished from the first three months of the pandemic.

Next week, in-person centers will be opened in Covington and Prestonsburg. People must register in advance on the state web site.

“There will be one site in Covington at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, open on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. There will be another site in Prestonsburg at Big Sandy Community & Technical College, open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Frankfort in-person assistance site at the Mayo-Underwood Building will remain open as well, Monday-Friday. Kentuckians can sign up for an appointment at kcc.ky.gov,” Beshear said.

“This week, the Ashland site served 1,316 individuals, Hopkinsville has served 1,000 through today and Somerset has served 1,000 through today as well,” he continued. “We’ve also had over 4,600 in-person appointments here in Frankfort.”

On the budget, the Consensus Forecasting Group, whose forecasts the state is required by law to follow, has estimated the state’s road fund would fall $161.8 million short in revenues because of the coronavirus outbreak.

But the newest actual numbers put the shortfall at closer to $60 million and through spending cuts and federal reimbursements, that number has been reduced even further.

In addition, cities and counties had an initial projected shortfall of $37 million, but the actual shortfall is just $8 million.

“I don’t want to say I’m optimistic because things are still really rough. But more dollars are coming in than expected, and that suggests this economy is going to rebound faster than expected,” Beshear.

That means road projects that have been put on hold and jobs that had been threatened will survive.

“It means counties will get money they hadn’t counted on for much-needed projects. It means more people working. For the first time in three months we are letting contracts. There will be more construction making our roadways safer. This is really good news,” Beshear said, noting the state has not yet received word on the general fund although “more dollars are coming in than expected.”

In economic development news,GE Appliances announced a $62 million investment in the GE Appliance Park in Louisville, creating 260 new jobs. More than 6,000 people already work in the park and the new jobs will be making refrigerators, washers, dryers and dishwashers.

And Feralloy Corp. will take over an existing building in Ghent in Gallatin County custom-processing steel from Nucor. It plant will opening October and eventually employ 30 people.

The state has 230 steel-related plants, Beshear said.