Beshear signs bill giving COVID-related relief to businesses

The measure allows employers to continue using the unemployment insurance assessment rate set for 2020 before COVID-19 hit

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear signed into law Thursday a business-backed bill providing another round of coronavirus-related relief to Kentucky employers on their unemployment insurance tax assessments.

The measure allows employers to continue using the unemployment insurance assessment rate set for 2020 before COVID-19 hit. The new law freezes the rate for a second straight year.

“To be clear, we are hopefully coming out of this pandemic,” Beshear said at a news conference where he signed the bill. “But both businesses and our families, at very critical levels, are still feeling the impacts of this pandemic and need a little bit of help. This is help for our businesses.”

After signing the bill, the Democratic governor pointedly said the “same compassion” should be shown for vulnerable Kentuckians as for businesses. Beshear is feuding with the legislature over Republican-backed measures overhauling the state’s social safety net.

Under the newly signed measure, rolling back the 2022 unemployment tax rates is expected to save employers about $120 million, the governor said. Lawmakers were told the suspended rate would save Kentucky businesses, on average, about $70 per employee.

Another key part of the newly signed bill will spend $242 million in federal pandemic aid to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. Like other states, Kentucky was overwhelmed by record waves of claims for jobless assistance caused by the coronavirus.

Republican Rep. Russell Webber, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the measure will provide relief to employers struggling with high inflation and supply-chain bottlenecks stemming from the pandemic.

“This crisis demands action again, and House Bill 144 is the right way we can help our businesses for one more year while they get back on their feet,” Webber said at the bill signing.

Lawmakers pushed through the business-relief measure while passing another bill revamping rules for unemployment benefits for laid-off Kentuckians. That legislation increases work-search requirements for people receiving jobless benefits and ties the length of time recipients get benefits to the unemployment rate. That could cut the number of benefit weeks by more than half in times of low jobless rates. The GOP-run legislature overrode Beshear’s veto of that bill.

The legislature also this week overrode the governor’s veto of a measure ending Kentucky’s COVID-19 state of emergency a few weeks earlier than previously planned. Beshear warned that action will cut off extra federal food assistance to struggling Kentuckians at a time of rising food prices.

“Why can’t we have the same compassion for kids and seniors that don’t have enough to eat as we do for our businesses?” the governor said Thursday. “I think we can have compassion for both.”

The governor sharply criticized another GOP-backed bill to tighten rules for public assistance, saying it “violates certainly my faith and values about how we are supposed to treat one another.”

“We don’t have an overly generous safety net,” Beshear said. “We have about an average safety net. And you know what? Having a safety net helps people get back into full-time employment and careers in ways that we will need.”

The House-passed measure is awaiting Senate action. The bill’s lead supporters say the goal is to steer more people into self-sufficiency, but stress that people in need — including children, the elderly and single moms — would not lose benefits.


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