For some Kentucky employers, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could be catastrophic. Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts stressed to lawmakers Thursday just how critical it is for the state address issues like a drained unemployment insurance fund, childcare facilities shutting down, dwindling workforce participation, and legal liability to ensure a successful economic rebound.
Watts reminded members of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment that after months of unprecedented unemployment insurance benefits claims amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, Kentucky’s fund for those claims is at $0. ”The state has borrowed more than $800 million from the federal government for a cost that will fall directly on the backs of Kentucky employers,” she added.
Watts acknowledged that the loan is absolutely necessary to pay the claims, but also warned that the increased costs employers will see in order to pay back the loan could be the final straw for many Kentucky businesses. “Most businesses have already seen some sort of lost revenue and increased costs to comply with new COVID-19 regulations, Watts said. “In order to deal with this issue, the Chamber and many others have asked Gov. Andy Beshear to use federal aid to pay back at least some of the loan to ease the burden on employers.”
The pandemic and unemployment issues have also caused the state to be ranked 49th out of 50 states in terms of workforce participation as of July. Before the pandemic, Kentucky ranked 40th. Watts pointed out that more than 246,000 Kentuckians have left the workforce in recent months and stressed the state must not lose sight of this issue moving forward. “While we must continue to provide safe work environments for employees and patrons, it is equally as important to maintain a healthy, trained, and educated workforce,” Watts said.
Existing inequities and issues in childcare have also been heightened by the pandemic, Watts said. “Projections tell us that Kentucky could lose 40 percent of its childcare facilities in a matter of months if something is not done to address the issue,” Watts said, pointing to increased federal and identifying more options for in-home and in-business childcare.
Finally, Watts said addressing legal liability is a critical aspect of moving forward after the pandemic to ensure companies following the CDC and Healthy at Work guidelines do not face frivolous lawsuits and are protected. She said while this issue is currently stalled at the federal level, the business community and many other groups from education, healthcare, and other sectors will be focused on passing protections in the 2021 session of the General Assembly.