By BRUCE SCHREINER – Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Legislation to revamp unemployment benefit rules was opposed Friday by Kentucky’s governor, who condemned it as a “callous” move that would lead to more population losses in areas rural.
The bill – demanded by business groups – would increase job search requirements for people receiving unemployment benefits and link the length of time recipients receive benefits to the unemployment rate. This could more than halve the number of weeks of benefits in times of low unemployment.
“We have a duty to each other during tough times to lend each other a helping hand,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a veto message posted online, adding that Kentucky’s current benefits are “online.” with most states.
“But it’s ruthless,” the governor said referring to the vetoed bill. “It will show the world, unfortunately, that we as a state care less about those who have fallen on hard times than other states.”
Supporters say the measure represents an important step toward improving the state’s labor shortages as businesses struggle to fill jobs.
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The bill’s main sponsor, Republican Representative Russell Webber, said Friday that the measure was intended to preserve the availability of benefits while increasing employment.
“Kentuckians value hard work, they want to be independent, and they deserve a committed unemployment insurance program to help them get back into the workforce,” Webber said.
“The governor needs to stop normalizing the idea that Kentuckians want nothing more than to be dependent on state government when, in reality, they value hard work and want more for their lives,” he said. he added in a press release.
It’s the latest in what could become a series of political clashes between the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers as the 2022 legislative session enters its final days. Friday was the 51st day of this year’s 60-day session.
In issuing his veto on Friday, Beshear warned that unemployment-related legislation would cause hardship in some economically struggling areas of rural Kentucky.
Opponents of the bill have warned that its increased job search requirements would drive more laid-off workers out of struggling rural areas where job prospects are scarcer.
“What this is going to do is lead to further depopulation of parts of eastern and western Kentucky, where people are going to be forced to relocate instead of giving these communities the time they need. need to get back on their feet after being knocked down by a changing economy,” Beshear said.
Kentucky now offers up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefit eligibility. Under the bill, people would receive benefits between 12 and 24 weeks, with the duration determined by an indexing formula based on unemployment trends. The bill would add five weeks of benefits to those enrolled in approved job training or certification programs.
“Remember unemployment is not available to those who quit,” the governor said. “It’s for people who were working and who, through no fault of their own, suddenly have to find a new career.”
Proponents of the bill have defended the escalation provision. During a debate on the bill, Republican Senator Wil Schroder said, “Just as Kentucky allows more weeks of benefits when the economy is bad, it should offer fewer weeks when the economy is strong and jobs are widely available.”
Republicans, with dominant legislative majorities, have routinely overruled the Democratic governor’s vetoes. But GOP ranks have been split on the unemployment bill, with some eastern Kentucky lawmakers speaking out against the measure. They said it would hurt their constituents who are struggling to find work in an area where many coal and manufacturing jobs have disappeared.
In a moving speech during a debate, Republican Senator Phillip Wheeler predicted the new standards would cause “great misery” in his area of eastern Kentucky.
It was the governor’s second high-profile veto in recent days.
Beshear also vetoed a GOP-backed measure calling for a speedy end to Kentucky’s COVID-19 state of emergency. Beshear said such action would cut off additional food aid to struggling Kentuckians.
The governor said there was no urgent need to end the emergency, noting that there had been no statewide virus restrictions for six months. Proponents of the measure said it signaled that life was returning to normal after the long fight against the pandemic.
The unemployment legislation is House Bill 4.
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