By Ashli Watts
As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the road to Kentucky’s economic recovery will no doubt be longer than we would prefer, but the length of the journey will ultimately be decided by how we address three key issues: unemployment insurance, legal liability and the education and care of our children.
Kentucky’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund now has a balance of $0.
Mandated business closures and added regulations have created an unprecedented rise in unemployment insurance (UI) benefits claims due to layoffs from the pandemic. Kentucky’s UI Trust Fund carried a balance of about $618 million entering the pandemic, but the fund has dwindled down to zero as the state continues to lead the nation in unemployment.
In June, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Kentucky was approved for an $825 million federal loan just to allow the state’s UI Trust Fund to keep paying benefits. As the UI fund continues to dwindle, the only means to help replenish it–and pay back any federal loans—lies solely “on the back of employers,” state officials recently told lawmakers.
To address growing concerns with the UI Trust Fund, the business community has asked Beshear to allocate any remaining federal CARES Act dollars to help with the fund and has asked members of Kentucky’s federal delegation to support a forgivable loan.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce also has been looking to states like South Carolina that have opted to remove the pandemic time period from the evaluation they use to determine interest rates in efforts to avoid huge rate hikes for employers. A task force, like the one Kentucky formed in 2009 to address similar issues after the Great Recession, should also be established to ensure employers have a seat at the table in developing bipartisan solutions for this crisis.
Liability protections must be passed to prevent businesses, schools and others from losing everything due to frivolous lawsuits.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Kentucky businesses and public agencies were asked to temporarily close their doors or greatly change their operations to curtail the spread of the coronavirus and keep all Kentuckians safe.
Employers throughout the state answered the call to protect us, and now is the time for us to protect them and restart the economy as we continue to recover from the crisis.
Frivolous lawsuits will only delay our recovery, stunt job growth and further challenge public services for all Kentuckians.
To address this, the business community and other key groups have asked the governor to work with the legislature to protect Kentucky’s recovery by enacting protections for businesses, schools and organizations that have followed all recommendations dealing with the pandemic. The same groups also have urged Kentucky’s federal delegation to include liability protections in any forthcoming COVID-19 legislation passed by Congress.
The pandemic has created major academic hurdles for Kentucky students. We must save child care and ensure accountability to best serve parents and students.
As many working parents prepare to physically return to the workplace, they are finding that their previous child care arrangements are no longer available. Our workforce has already suffered a massive hit. If a significant percentage of our remaining workforce has to juggle taking care of their children while trying to work, it will severely challenge our economic progress.
Child care is among the most consequential industries for our economic recovery—it is essential for businesses, families and the workforce of today and tomorrow. We have asked the federal government for additional, targeted assistance for child care providers to ensure availability to as many families as possible.
At the same time, schools are working on plans to provide education for students who have not seen a classroom since early March. While school districts work to figure out how and when to safely bring students back, we must not drop the ball on measuring students’ academic progress. We are facing the greatest “summer slide” of all time, and our state will need to identify where gaps have grown and address those gaps to give our students the attention they deserve.
As the issues caused by the pandemic continue to stack up, it is critical we keep these three on the forefront for action as we push toward our economic recovery.
Ashli Watts is the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO