Kentucky Gov. Beshear signals effort to entice more people back to work

Published 5:05 am Friday, June 18, 2021

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signaled Thursday that he plans to offer incentives to fill more jobs, as he defended enhanced jobless benefits that Republican lawmakers and businesses blame for causing labor shortages.

The Democratic governor wants more Kentuckians back to work as the economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, but said the right course is to offer “the carrot, not the stick.”

Republican leaders and businesses have pressed Beshear to set a date to end the $300 in extra weekly federal unemployment payments. Critics say the supplemental benefit discourages many people from returning to work.

Beshear said those supplemental benefits inject $34 million each week into Kentucky’s economy, with pandemic-battered retailers, grocery stores and restaurants among the beneficiaries. Those businesses would be hardest hit by a “premature end” to those benefits, he said.

The governor said his administration is working on a plan to offer incentives to get more people back to work, saying he hopes to have an announcement next week. He didn’t offer details but said he hopes the program could be launched soon after the announcement.

Beshear said he’s trying to “thread the needle” to boost employment while protecting benefits for people unable to return to work right away. The reasons for people not returning to work are complicated, and can include a lack of available child care or virus-related concerns about returning to jobs that require interaction with the public, he said.

“It’s trying to devise the way that we get a large portion that can return to work, to return to work, while keeping that necessary safety net for those that need just a little bit more time,” he said.

The federal enhancement — coming on top of state jobless benefits — is set to expire in September. Beshear acknowledged some people haven’t returned to work due to the level of jobless benefits.