We are deeply concerned by the House passage of HB 4, legislation that will harm Kentucky workers, families and communities, and lead to deeper, longer and more painful recessions. Among other harmful provisions, HB 4 would cut benefit weeks from 26 to as few as 12 (as would have been the case were HB 4 in effect during the COVID crisis), force Kentuckians into low-wage jobs outside of their field as long as the pay is just over half of their previous job, and multiply by 5 the chances Kentuckians will trip up and lose benefits due to burdensome paperwork requirements. These cuts will also reduce employer contributions at a time when their effective UI tax rate is already at a historic low.
This is not a recipe for improving our workforce or economy. This is a recipe for lower wages and more hardship for Kentuckians experiencing barriers to employment. Whether those barriers are related to racial discrimination, living in a part of the state where jobs are inadequate, looking for work after serving time, having a disability, lacking elder or child care or simply living through a personal or collective economic crisis, HB 4 will turn the screws on people who are already facing hardship. It will worsen economic, geographic and racial disparities in Kentucky, instead of advancing shared prosperity.
We all know someone who struggled with our outdated unemployment system over the past two years. Instead of making it even more difficult for Kentuckians to get and keep unemployment insurance, lawmakers should focus on provisions that better prepare Kentucky for the next downturn by making it work for, and not against workers. The many Kentuckians who have received UI during the pandemic attest to its saving impact, helping them keep food on the table and pay the bills. And the economic research is clear that UI benefits kept our economy going and prevented job losses from being even steeper in the COVID downturn.
We hope the Senate will listen to constituents and start over with a bill that will actually help Kentucky workers.