While some 63,000 unprocessed unemployment claims are now “95% complete,” a final processing step means Kentuckians will be waiting a bit longer to learn if they’ve been approved for benefits.

After three weeks of claim processing help from private vendor Ernst & Young, Kentucky’s Office of Unemployment Insurance has nearly cleared through its backlog of initial claims stretching back to March, when coronavirus-related closures sent jobless claims soaring.

The majority of these claims were disputed and required more investigation before deciding if a filer was eligible for benefits, said Amy Cubbage, Kentucky Labor Cabinet general counsel, during a Monday news conference.

The final step on these disputed claims, per federal rules, is the sending of a formal letter to tell people if their claim was approved or denied, Cubbage said.

Gov. Andy Beshear, addressing the letter writing on Monday, said “it’s a pain-in-the-butt” step that unfortunately can’t be skipped.

“It’s sadly going to make people have to wait longer than they should,” he said.

Of the 63,000 claims that need a determination letter, 4,900 are March claims, 22,000 April claims and 20,000 May claims.

Beshear said the one- to two-page claim determination letters take about 10 minutes to write and can only be completed by state government employees.

More people are needed to get the letters out faster, he said, so state employees are being pulled from other areas to help speed up process.

After people get their letters, they’ll either receive benefits or will be able to appeal.

Under the initial nearly $7.6 million contract with the state, Ernst & Young contract employees spent the last three weeks gathering information on the outstanding claims by calling individuals and employers to get the claim ready for a state employee to adjudicate.

During the initial contract, which ran July 1-26, contract employees processed 61,000 claims, Cubbage said, exceeding previously announced expectations that were closer to 50,000.

The Courier Journal reported last week that the state has extended the private vendor contract for five weeks and an additional $4.4 million, which like the initial contract will be paid for with federal coronavirus relief package funding.

Extending the contract will allow the group of about 100 employees in the state’s unemployment office to focus on completing the letters while the vendor’s workers can keep up with new claims.

The contract workers will also now turn their attention to “continuing claims,” which Cubbage said are those that were initially approved and generated payments but have since stopped when an unemployment filer inadvertently opened a second claim or checked a box wrong when requesting another round of payment.

“We are hopeful that we’ll get through those quickly,” Cubbage said.

She also reiterated that the federal weekly $600 supplement to state unemployment benefits has come to an end, unless the U.S. Congress takes further action.

Of the $3.3 billion paid out in unemployment benefits during the pandemic in Kentucky, $2.5 billion of that total has been federal dollars tied to the $600 supplement.

Frequent viewers of the governor’s COVID-19 news conferences may haven noted it was Cubbage, not Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Deputy Secretary Josh Benton, who took to the podium Monday to talk about unemployment.

Benton, who has been the face of Kentucky unemployment benefits during the governor’s addresses, confirmed late last week during a Frankfort legislative meeting he was leaving his position.

Cabinet spokesman JT Henderson said Benton recently submitted his resignation to pursue a job outside of state government.

Reporter Matthew Glowicki can be reached at [email protected], 502-582-4989 or on Twitter @mattglo. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/mattg.