File-Beshear announces vaccine arrival

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear speaks to the media as the first delivery of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrives at University of Louisville Hospital in Louisville, Ky., Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – In January, Patricia Short talked to a Lexington TV station about the struggles she faced trying to get unemployment benefits from the state of Kentucky.

On Friday, she stood alongside her husband next to Gov. Andy Beshear as the state’s first $1 million winner in the “Shot at a Million” drawings, Kentucky's incentive program to encourage more residents to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

"I'm still numb,” Short said in a press conference at the state Capitol. “Y'all get vaccinated. That's the important thing.”

The governor also revealed the names of five children ages 12-17 who won four-year, full-ride scholarships to a state college or technical or trade school as a result of getting vaccinated.

Beshear announced the drawing campaign a month ago as vaccinations plateaued in the state. Since then, more than 121,000 Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

The state will conduct drawings July 29 and Aug. 26 to award two more $1 million prizes and 10 more scholarships. Registrations are still being taken at shotatamillion.ky.gov, and anyone who gets at least one shot is eligible.

More than 608,000 Kentuckians registered for the first drawing, Beshear said. About 2.2 million residents have received at least a dose of a vaccine.

In a video revealing Short as the winner, she said she thought a telemarketer was trying to contact her when it was the state trying to notify her that she won.

It was a far different situation that she experienced previously, according to an interview she gave in January to WLEX-TV. (https://www.lex18.com/news/covering-kentucky/im-afraid-to-get-hopeful-lexington-woman-details-unemployment-woes)

She learned last year she qualified for unemployment even though she was an independent contractor. When Beshear initiated Kentucky’s COVID state of emergency in March 2020, he expanded the state’s unemployment program to include gig workers, like Short.

However, in that January interview, she said the last time she had heard from the unemployment office was in July 2020.

"I was put in the queue and no one's ever called me back,” she told the TV station back in January.

Kentucky’s unemployment program has been the subject of criticism during the pandemic. Thousands, like Short, complained that the state had not processed their claims, leaving some of them without money for months.

State Auditor Mike Harmon issued a report finding multiple issues with the unemployment program. In one instance last year, investigators found more than 400,000 unread e-mail messages that were at least six months old in a backlog account.

Meanwhile, the state auditor reported some state employees, while still working full-time, filed claims for part-time jobs. Some state workers who had access to the claims system accessed their claims as well as those for colleagues and in some cases took steps to process claims and override rejections.

In other cases, the auditor found the state paid claims without initially checking eligibility.

Beshear has said expanding the program at the beginning of the pandemic, when thousands of businesses laid off workers due to closure orders and other restrictions, led to an overwhelming number of claims filed.

The administration is working on overhauling the unemployment system, which he said saw its staffing cut in previous years. He’s also called for implementing a new IT system to better process claims.

Funding has been approved for that system, but officials said it may take a couple of years before it is fully operational.