People lost jobs. Businesses closed up shop. It happened with unprecedented speed. The pandemic showed that we need a strong, modern, efficient Unemployment Insurance system, not a weak and bureaucratic one. Yet lawmakers in Frankfort appear poised to diminish UI in startling ways.
House leaders early in February took unusual steps to move along HB 4, a bill that would:
Ratchet down maximum weeks of unemployment benefits based on the statewide unemployment rate
Require five job contacts a week to keep benefits, up from the current one
Require workers to take jobs at wages far below what they earned before
What was unusual? House Leaders gave HB 4 two out of the three required “readings” on the House floor even before sending it to a committee. That’s a sign that a measure could be muscled through. If that happens, Kentucky workers, families, and especially rural communities will pay the price.
Why should you be concerned?
HB 4 cuts weeks of benefits statewide based on the statewide unemployment rate. But we all know unemployment is higher in rural areas and coal counties. Why should workers, families and local economies in those communities suffer? Or black, brown and disabled Kentuckians who face extra barriers to employment?
By requiring five job contacts a week instead of one, HB 4 would send workers on a burdensome wild goose chase to keep benefits and tie up the state program keeping tabs on red tape. Remember how hard it was to get through to a state worker before? .
HB 4 is an ambition-killing bill for Kentucky workers. It says never mind your hopes, dreams, skills and experience—take just about any job within 30 miles or lose the benefits that could tide you over to a decent job. Sadly, that will mean diverting workers from skilled trades.
Proponents may say these harsh measures will grow labor force participation. But the evidence shows its provisions are the wrong recipe. Of the ten states with the highest labor force participation rates, only one has less than the 26 week maximum benefit Kentucky has now.
Sadly, HB 4 seems driven by shopworn stereotypes about "dependency" on benefits that are inaccurate, unfair and ultimately harmful to working Kentuckians. For a deep dive on policy and impact, see this informative write-up on HB 4 by Ky Policy.
To take action, click this link from Kentucky State AFL-CIO and generate an email to the lawmakers who represent you in Frankfort. Let them know we need a strong Unemployment Insuranc program, not a weak one. Tell them ”VOTE NO on HB 4."