Cabinet Officials Defend Hiring, Firing Of Unemployment Director

Cabinet officials defended the hiring and downplayed the firing of the executive director of the Office of Unemployment Insurance at a legislative hearing Thursday. 

As KyCIR first reported Monday, the executive director, Muncie McNamara, was quietly fired in early May amid a mounting unemployment crisis caused by the coronavirus. 

McNamara was a campaign donor and friend of Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman; she personally called to offer him the job running the Office of Unemployment Insurance in January. 

Josh Benton, the deputy secretary for the Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development, defended that hire to the legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee Thursday. 

“We felt that he met the qualifications for the job, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah, asked whether any of the delays in providing jobless benefits can be traced to McNamara’s inexperience on the job. 

“Every state has had complications. Every state has had frustrations,” Benton said. “So to fully lay that at any one person’s feet would be unfair.”

Benton described an agency thrown into chaos as unemployment claims skyrocketed amid the pandemic-related shutdowns. The agency went from processing a few thousand claims a week to hundreds of thousands, and the size of the agency’s staff ballooned as employees from other parts of state government came to help out.  

Legislators also questioned Benton — as well as Labor Secretary Larry Roberts and general counsel Amy Cubbage — about the contract the state gave Ernst and Young to help process claims. The $7.6 million no-bid contract is set to expire in three days, though Cubbage said they are considering extending it because the workers are already trained in the system. 

Benton and Cubbage also addressed a data breach that was first identified at the unemployment office in late April, which was not reported to the proper authorities until nearly a month later.