Beshear: Kentucky to seek extra unemployment payments

Beshear: Kentucky to seek extra unemployment payments
Gov. Andy Beshear says Kentucky is set to seek extra unemployment payments from the federal government for people put out of work during the coronavirus outbreak. (Source: Eric Prouzet)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky will seek to provide an extra $400 per week in short-term supplemental aid for its unemployed workers under a White House offer, Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday.

The state Labor Cabinet will file the application Thursday, and federal approval could come within days, Beshear said. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of Kentuckians will be eligible, but Beshear said they likely won’t start receiving the extra payments until early September.

“While there is still some uncertainty in this new program, it is just too important to get these dollars to our families,” the Democratic governor told reporters at his coronavirus briefing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had urged Beshear to request the extra jobless aid.

The offer from the White House is for less than the $600 a week in federal pandemic aid that unemployment recipients received until the assistance expired Aug 1. Congress has been unable to agree on an extension amid an impasse on a new round of coronavirus relief.

Soon after Beshear’s announcement, McConnell said he’s glad the governor “took my suggestion and has decided to apply for the unemployment benefits that President Trump has made available.”

Beshear acknowledged that McConnell was pushing for Kentucky to take advantage of the program, but the governor said his administration “needed the information and the guidance that wasn’t there until very recently.”

Other states have lined up for the additional assistance.

Under the program, no extra state money will be required for the first $300 in extra weekly assistance for each recipient. To get the full $400 available for the unemployed, Kentucky will dip into its federal coronavirus relief aid to make up the difference, Beshear said.

He said he opted for the full amount because that extra $100 is “critically important” for recipients.

“We know how this money moves through the economy,” the governor said.

Kentucky’s portion, tapping into its allotment from the federal coronavirus rescue package, will be about $8 million per week, he said.

Using the funding provided in the relief package “makes sure Kentuckians benefit even more from this important program,” McConnell said in a statement.

McConnell, who is up for reelection this year, was a key architect of the virus relief legislation.

Under the federal program, Kentuckians receiving unemployment benefits for the weeks of July 26-Aug. 15 will receive the additional $400 if they lost work due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The supplemental federal payments could last as little as three weeks, but Beshear said he hopes the extra payments continue after that, depending in part on possible congressional action.

Recipients will still receive regular state unemployment benefits.

Once Kentucky gets federal approval, it will take about two weeks to reconfigure the state’s unemployment insurance system to process and distribute the extra payments, the governor said.

Meanwhile, Beshear reported 655 more coronavirus cases in Kentucky on Wednesday, raising the total number of statewide cases to at least 40,926 since the pandemic began. Ninety-one of the new cases were among Kentuckians ages 18 and under, Beshear said.

The governor recently urged Kentucky’s K-12 schools to wait until Sept. 28 to restart in-person classes to give more time to bring a recent surge in virus cases under control. That means districts would start the school year relying on virtual learning.

The state also reported 12 more virus-related deaths, raising the death toll to 842.

Kentucky’s positivity rate — a rolling figure reflecting the average number of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 — was 5.41%, down slightly.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.

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