The current state of Kentucky's unemployment system discourages benefit recipients from working temporary or part-time jobs. From time to time, benefit recipients are required to report to their local Office of Employment and Training for job search training (3.5 hours starting at 8:30 a.m.) or simply to check in with caseworkers in person.
In theory, this is a fine idea. However, if a recipient is working a temporary job and wants to maintain eligibility to receive benefits once that job ends, there is no option other than leaving the temporary job and reporting to the unemployment office. There is simply no way to inform anyone you would like to reschedule so you can work.
No one answers the phone. There is no way to leave a voice mail, and there is no way to e-mail anyone. Once you are in the system, the only way to communicate with the people who have the power to terminate your benefits is to go to the nearest local office to speak with a staff person. This meeting can be over in five minutes, but the only way to get the meeting is to wait for several hours.
I am recently unemployed as a result of the real-estate slump. I live in Midway and my "home unemployment office" is the Frankfort office. I have been collecting unemployment benefits since Aug. 1. I have been looking for work since April 1. I recently was lucky enough to land a temporary job helping with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, so I have not been drawing benefits since Sept. 7.
The pay is barely more than I would collect by sitting at home collecting benefits. If you count gas, food and child-care costs, I am actually losing money by working. But I am learning new skills and making great contacts, so I believe it will help me find a full-time permanent job. Also, I love my state and am thrilled to have the chance to have a small part in making Kentucky look great to so many visitors from across the world.
I received a notice from the unemployment office requiring me to come to a 3.5-hour job search training program on Sept. 9. However, my temporary job started on Sept. 7, so I tried to call the office but could not get anyone. So I worked that day rather than go to the job search session. I did not draw any benefits that week.
I have now received a second letter requiring me to come to training on Sept. 30 and stating that if I do not, I may lose my benefits. And when I logged onto the unemployment system to report that I did not need a check for the past two weeks because I have been working, I could not access the system and there was a message requiring me to report to the nearest unemployment office or I could lose my benefits.
Since I could not get the local office to answer the phone, I called the secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. I did receive a call back, but the person informed me that the only goal of the unemployment system is for people to obtain full-time employment, not part-time employment and that, yes, I would have to attend the training session rather than going to a part-time job.
Only when I convinced her that my job was temporary and that I am not currently receiving unemployment benefits, did she agree that I should be able to work and remain eligible for benefits when my position ends. However, she would need to have someone from the Frankfort unemployment office call me in order to make the appropriate notation in the computer system so I could reschedule my training.
So, at the end of the day, there is no real solution.
If I have another problem next week, my only option will be to once again leave a message for the cabinet secretary. If someone else who is not as brave as I am has a problem, they will have to make the decision whether to work and not draw benefits or leave work to go to the unemployment office in order to protect their benefits.
With so many people out of work these days, the unemployment system should encourage temporary and part-time employment.
Do we really want people sitting at home collecting checks? Or do we want them taking any work they can get, reducing the amount of weekly benefit checks they receive and possibly turning a part-time job into a full-time job so they can leave the ranks of unemployed Kentuckians?
The unemployment system needs to be revamped. And I happen to know someone who is looking for a job and would be glad to help.