More than 400,000 unanswered emails piled up at Kentucky unemployment office, audit shows

Published 5:49 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2021

A massive backlog of unread emails piled up in computers at Kentucky’s unemployment insurance office as it struggled to process claims in the pandemic-battered economy, according to an audit released Tuesday.

More than 400,000 emails archived by the beleaguered office were unread as of last Nov. 9, state Auditor Mike Harmon said in releasing the report. Those emails from claimants included problems needing to be resolved as well as general questions from unemployed Kentuckians, he said.

“It breaks my heart to think of those Kentuckians included in the 400,000 unopened emails who so desperately wanted their voices heard and yet were ignored,” the Republican auditor said.

The review revealed a “systemic failure of leadership on all levels” in the state’s response to record-setting waves of claims for jobless assistance caused by the coronavirus, said Harmon, who is being mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for governor in 2023.

In response, Gov. Andy Beshear called it a “challenging balance” for state workers responding to unprecedented numbers of jobless claims and multiple emails from people desperate for assistance.

“Our hope is that we can get through all of these emails in a way that does not take our people who are on the front lines, getting these people the benefits they need, off of that really important work,” the Democratic governor said at his coronavirus-related briefing Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of Kentuckians found themselves in limbo for months as they waited for their jobless claims to be processed. Beshear’s administration eventually hired an outside company to help work through the claims backlog.

The issue put the governor on the defensive even as he continued to point to budget and staffing cuts that hobbled the unemployment insurance system well before he took office. In his budget plan to lawmakers, Beshear proposed more funding to update the antiquated system.