State extends UI contract, 15 deaths reported, Beshear talks Derby, violence

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky has extended the contract with Ernst & Young accountants trough the end of the year to help finish off 70,000 of the most difficult unemployment claims and to avoid backups as claims continue to come in.

The unemployment contract, along with discussions about the Kentucky Derby and potential violence in Louisville and a special legislative session dominated Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily briefing Tuesday, which included conflicting numbers between 15 new deaths and a declining positivity rate.

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This is the third extension with Ernst & Young, which started in July with a four-week, $7.5 million contract, was extended in SAugust with a five-week $4.4 million contract, and now will stay on through December in a $4.9 million contract.

The latest contract calls for the company to prove 100 workers a week through the end of September and then 25 a week through the end of the year.

Beshear said that in nine weeks, EY helped Kentucky process more than 141,000 claims. By extending the contract through the end of the year, the Governor said officials expect to get through about 70,000 disputed claims awaiting adjudication.

Beshear was joined by Amy Cubbage, deputy secretary of the Labor Cabinet, who provided further details.

“The first phase of the contract was for a four-week term, and when that initial term ended successfully with the processing of approximately 61,000 initial and continuing claims, we extended the EY contract for another five weeks to help us resolve continuing claims,” Cubbage said.

Cubbage noted the original EY contract as well as the extensions all are being funded with money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and would not affect the state’s normal budget.

She said that in mid-August Kentucky applied for and has been approved to use outside help like EY contractors to write letters of determination, a time-sensitive process that has slowed many claims because federal rules previous banned the use of contractors, requiring those letters to be written by state staffers.

She said EY will provide 100 staffers to assist in preparing the written determinations for four weeks, and then 25 staffers for another 12 weeks.

“We believe this will cut the time to issue the pandemic-related backlog of adjudications by approximately half,” Cubbage said.

The remaining “most difficult claims,” which include between 2,000 and 3,000 from March, are those with disputes from employers, people who did not qualify for unemployment under state or federal guidelines, or needed information from other states.

“We hope that by putting the EY workers on the toughest cases, we can get them all cleared out, avoid a back up as cases continue to come in and continue to try to provide in-person services in field offices across the state,” Beshear said.

Cubbage also said instead of buying a completely new computer system as originally planned before the pandemic, the state is now looking at doing it in phases starting at the end of the year.

The state originally had $60 million set aside for the system but that was raided to cover pandemic costs and will only slowly be rebuilt, Beshear and Cubbage said.

Beshear announced 807 new coronavirus cases, pushing the state’s total to 49,185. Of the new cases,  150 are kids 18 and under, of which 24 were children ages 5 and under. The youngest was only 27 days old.

“The virus is certainly spreading more through our kids,” said Beshear. “That’s concerning. So keep getting tested. It helps us stop the spread, especially through our asymptomatic folks.”

Beshear reported 15 new deaths, raising the total to 948 Kentuckians lost to the virus.

The deaths include a 78-year-old woman from Calloway County; two women, ages 71 and 85, and two men, ages 87 and 88, from Campbell County; a 73-year-old man from Fayette County; a 55-year-old woman from Grayson County; a 70-year-old man from Harlan County; a 77-year-old woman and an 83-year-old man from Jefferson County; two men, ages 73 and 81, from Lincoln County; a 79-year-old woman from Monroe County; a 67-year-old man from Owen County; and an 80-year-old woman from Pulaski County.

“Tough day that we have 15 new deaths. If we have over 4,000 cases a week, were going to lose people we care about,” said Beshear.

The positivity rate currently stands at 4.40%, the seventh straight day below 5 percent and down slightly from Monday.

Of the new cases, area counties continued to be in double digits with new cases, including Fayette, Madison, Jackson, Franklin, Scott, Pulaski and Mercer, among others.

For information, including up-to-date lists of positive cases and deaths, as well as breakdowns of coronavirus infections by county, race and ethnicity, click here.

Colleges reported 410 new cases, bringing to 647 the number of active cases among college students. Among secondary schools, the state has recorded 174 current cases among students and 68 among staff, with 10 new schools reporting at least one case Tuesday.

Information about COVID-19 and schools is also being made available. To view the reports, click here for K-12 and here for colleges and universities.

Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, noted Kentucky still hovers at a plateau of about 150 new cases per day per million people in the state.

“At that rate, there’s a lot of disease spread widely throughout Kentucky. If we were to have it take off in an unrestrained manner, there’s a much bigger impact than there would be if we were at a lower plateau. It’s absolutely imperative that you wear your mask, watch your space and wash your hands. And if you have symptoms or a high risk exposure, you should get tested,” Stack said.

On other issues, Beshear said:

— He does not intend to attend the Kentucky Derby in person, but will watch it from home. “We are asking other Kentuckians to watch from home and that’s an example I will set,” he said.

— He will make the National Guard available as is usually the case to help with security at the Derby. This year’s request comes not because of fan control but because of speculation of potential violence between protesters opposing the Derby given ongoing racial tensions in Louisville and those with opposing views.

“If the Guard is needed to make sure protesters can stay separate, we will provide them,” Beshear said, noting discussions have been held on the subject.

Guardsmen would remain under their own decision-making and in roles that “fit their training, experience and skill-set,” Beshear explained.

— He would consider a special session to address policing and other issues if “we have viable” proposals on which we can come to some agreement.

The issue came up during a press conference by some Republican state lawmakers who suggested a session was needed to deal with police issues and violence in Louisville. One legislator said Beshear condoned carjackings because he had not spoken out about one in Louisville.

“If we can get something done, then it’s something I am willing to do,” Beshear said of the special session.

As for Louisville, Beshear said his approach is much the same. But until a decision is made in the Breonna Taylor case, a solution would be difficult, if not impossible.

“My goal in Louisville is to try to help find constructive solutions,” he said.

“But we can’t address any of this until we get a decision in the Breonna case…we have to be honest…we cannot get to a better place without the decision,” he concluded.