Kentucky House passes unemployment reform package that concerns some groups

Kentucky House passes unemployment reform package that concerns some groups

February 16, 2022 0 By Steve Bittenbender

The Kentucky House of Representatives passed an unemployment reform bill that would tie the number of checks a jobless worker could receive to the state’s unemployment rate.

House Bill 4 passed by a 57-37 vote. No Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the bill, but 15 Republicans sided with the Democratic caucus in voting against the measure after a lengthy debate on the House floor.

Most of the GOP opponents represent Eastern Kentucky districts, where unemployment rates are among the highest in the state.

Under the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, baseline unemployment benefits would go from lasting 26 weeks to 12. Additional weeks would be made available to recipients if the state’s average unemployment rate surpassed 4.5%, with that number capped at 24 weeks if the rate reaches 10%.

There would be waivers in place for laid-off individuals who have a return-to-work date of 16 weeks of their initial unemployment claim.

The bill also calls for recipients to increase their job search activities to at least five per week, with at least three of those including job interviews or completed job applications.

For employers, the bill also reduces the unemployment insurance rate they pay.

Supporters of the bill include the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which testified on behalf of the legislation during a House Economic Development and Workforce Investment hearing Thursday morning.

The chamber has been pushing lawmakers to take steps to increase the state’s workforce participation rate, which at 56.6% is the third-lowest in the nation.

State Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, said that increasing participation rate is crucial to landing more job opportunities in Eastern Kentucky. He recalled his father would drive for more than two hours each day round-trip to Lexington for work.

“Is it the perfect answer? No,” Bray said of the bill. “Do I love every aspect of this bill? Absolutely not. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

Organized labor, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and the Kentucky Council of Churches spoke out in opposition to the measure at the hearing.

Opponents said that the bill would force recipients to settle for jobs that pay slightly more than half of what they previously earned and may force them to take a job that doesn’t necessarily utilize the skills they’ve learned.

The Rev. Dale Raines, first vice president for the council of churches, told lawmakers the group only speaks out when its members are unanimous on a position.

“There is much about this bill that troubles people of faith and faith leaders,” he said. “What rationale can there be for enacting a law that will harm Kentuckians already hanging by a thread?”

The bill now heads to the Senate for its members to consider.

This article was originally posted on Kentucky House passes unemployment reform package that concerns some groups