UPDATE: Domestic violence program says House Bill 83 is critical for abuse survivors

HB 83 would apply in cases where the victim fears violence at or on route to the workplace

UPDATE: (MARCH 25TH, 2022)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Laughter fills the halls of GreenHouse17, a domestic violence program in Central Kentucky.

It houses around 300 people and serves around 7,000 men, women and children each year, who are survivors of domestic violence or currently in a domestic violence situation.

“Anything we can do to help reduce barriers to families as they try to navigate their way or ways away from violence” said Executive Director, Darlene Thomas.

Thomas says one of those barriers, is finances.

According to the Kentucky Coalition of Domestic Violence, 83% of domestic violence survivors reported their ability to work was negatively impacted by an abusive partner.

“Those that use violence in the relationship understand the importance of economic security and financial security, and they do a whole lot to try and affect that or destroy it” added Thomas.

That’s where House Bill 83 comes in.

It recently passed a house committee. It would extend unemployment benefits to domestic violence survivors who can’t work or have to quit working, due to fear of violence at or on the way to their workplace, or if they want to relocate to avoid the violence.

Survivors would have to provide documentation of police reports, court records, and statements from healthcare providers, clergy and a shelter worker to qualify for the benefits.

The benefits would be charged against the State’s pooled account, and not employers.

“Having this opportunity to have some income while reestablishing will be critical for survivors” said Thomas.

Thomas is hopeful for the passage of House Bill 83 as it heads to the full House for consideration.

“But, more importantly to be able to tell survivors they have worth, they are valued and we as a community support you as you try to figure out your next steps and were going to help you through that until you come out the other side” said Thomas.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/PRESS RELEASE) (MARCH 24TH, 2022) — A bipartisan initiative to extend unemployment benefits to domestic violence victims is on the move in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

The House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee approved House Bill 83 on Thursday. Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, said she and Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, have worked with stakeholders on the legislation for a couple of years.

“What this bill does is allow victims of domestic, dating, sexual and stalking violence who leave work, are unable to work, or separated from employment due to circumstances directly relating to that violence, to be eligible for unemployment benefits….” Kulkarni said.

HB 83 would apply in cases where the victim fears violence at or on route to the workplace, Kulkarni added. A victim would also be eligible if he or she wishes to relocate to another area to avoid future violence or protect the safety and health of themselves, their family or co-workers.

Kulkarni cited several studies that show domestic violence is linked to unemployment, with 83% of domestic violence survivors reporting their ability to work was negatively impacted by an abusive partner. Kulkarni said this legislation is necessary because Kentucky has a rate of intimate partner violence higher than the national average.

“Intimate partner violence impacts 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in their lifetime. In Kentucky, that number is higher,” Kulkarni said. “One in 3 women and 1 in 8 men experienced partner abuse. Nearly 1 in 2 women in Kentucky and 1 in 5 men have reported sexual violence at some point in their lives.”

HB 83 would require claimants to provide documentation to prove eligibility, Kulkarni added. The documentation could be police records, court records, sworn statements or other documentation of violence provided by the victim, shelter workers, members of the clergy, medical professionals or other professionals from whom the victim has sought assistance.

“This evidence would be kept confidential under this legislation,” Kulkarni said.

The bill would also direct the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet secretary to develop a confidential verification process designed to detect fraudulent claims and train employees.

Under HB 83, benefits would be paid from a pooled account and not from the employer’s reserve account.

“In addition, nothing in this bill will impact an employer’s experience rating for purposes of calculating the employer’s unemployment insurance tax rate,” Kulkarni added.

The measure would also direct the cabinet to train employees to process the claims and provide a report by Sept. 30 each year to the Legislative Research Commission detailing the number of claims filed.

During discussion, Rep. Kim Banta, R-Ft. Mitchell, and Rep. Matt Lockett, R-Nicholasville, both told Kulkarni they like the bill. Lockett asked Kulkarni about the pooled account that would be used.

“The pooled account is something that employers contribute to, and it reduces essentially the burden for each individual employer from paying out for unemployment benefits,” Kulkarni clarified. “And so this is not going to be charged to an employer’s reserve account, which would be individual to an employer.”

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, said he also likes the idea of the bill, but he has concerns about the fear aspect in the legislation.

“It seems to me that we may be going a bit too far,” he said.

Kulkarni said the fear of violence language in the bill means it has to be something that is currently happening and can be proved with documentation and “not the fear of future violence or abuse.”

In explaining their “no” votes, Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, and Rep. Scott Sharp, R-Ashland, said they have concerns about the potential of fraud. Calloway said he would like to talk with Kulkarni and Heavrin more about his concerns.

HB 83 now goes to the full House for consideration.

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