Kentucky Governor Offers $ 1,500 Bonus to Increase Membership

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday suspended a $ 1,500 bonus intended to attract thousands of unemployed Kentucky workers to work, offering it as an alternative to removing improved unemployment benefits that Republicans have and companies accuse of causing a labor shortage.

The first 15,000 Kentuckians who qualify and return to work by July 30 will receive the one-time return-to-work incentive, the Democratic governor said. Beshear said he is setting aside $ 22.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to pay for the incentive.

“It really brings the government and the private sector together, I think, in a way where we first try the carrot rather than the stick to solve this problem,” Beshear said.

The governor has faced increased pressure from Republican lawmakers and business groups to reduce the proliferation of “help wanted” signs appearing in Kentucky workplaces.

Business leaders warn that the state’s economy will not fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic until labor shortages are addressed. Kentucky Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive Ashli ​​Watts said in a statement Thursday that return-to-work incentives may be part of the answer.

“The business community is hopeful that this new incentive program will encourage Kentuckians to return to work, but we must also look for other solutions,” Watts said after Beshear’s announcement.

This includes phasing out the additional $ 300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits, as well as increased access to affordable, quality child care, she said.

On the child care front, the Beshear administration said Kentucky has received more than $ 763 million in federal funds to support child care providers hit hard by the pandemic. The funding will keep daycare centers open and allow more parents to return to work, Beshear said Thursday.

Beshear recognized that encouraging a return to work alone will not solve workforce problems. An estimated 60,000 Kentuckians are receiving the unemployment supplement, he said. Full participation in its return to work incentive would apply to a quarter of them, or 15,000 people.

The governor has strongly defended the extra unemployment benefits, despite pressure from Republicans and businesses urging him to set a date to end the extra payments. Critics say the additional benefit discourages many people from returning to work.

Beshear reiterated Thursday that those payments inject $ 34 million per week into Kentucky’s economy. Much of the money is funneled to retail stores, grocery stores and restaurants hit hard by the pandemic, he said. He highlighted the lack of available childcare as well as concerns about the virus about returning to work to prevent some people from re-entering the workforce.

The governor said he was “not ruling out any possibility” of tackling the problem of the state’s worker shortage, including an early termination of additional unemployment benefits. The effectiveness of the return to work program will be factored into this decision, he said. The federal improvement – on top of state unemployment benefits – is expected to expire in September.

Beshear’s return-to-work bonus drew praise from a prominent Kentucky business executive – Spencer A. Coates, president of Houchens Industries Inc. in Bowling Green. Coates applauded the governor’s action to “get employees back to work.”

To qualify for the bonus, applicants must be residents of Kentucky, have an active UI claim, and be employed by a Kentucky company between June 24 and July 30, 2021.

Employers will be responsible for completing an online application to verify that applicants for the incentive have accepted a job between these dates. Employers must also verify that applicants have worked 120 hours within four weeks of their new job.


Associated Press editor Piper Hudspeth Blackburn contributed to this report.

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