Hit for months by an economy-stifling pandemic and resulting backlog in unemployment insurance claims and then by hackers who shut down the state’s online system for four days, the Kentucky Department of Labor is hoping to address a growing backlog of claims by opening 11 Kentucky Career Center locations – including the one on Chestnut Street in Bowling Green – this week.

“Thursday we will open the doors for unemployment insurance claims by appointment only,” said Leah Krisher, one-stop operator with the Career Team company that contracts as service provider for the Bowling Green-based South Central Workforce Development Board. “The Career Development Office staff members have been working from home on U.I. issues all along. Now they’ll be back in the office.”

Krisher emphasized that those needing help with unemployment insurance issues will need to make an appointment by going through the kcc.ky.gov website.

The KCC in Bowling Green will be open for appointments from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. until noon on Friday.

Krisher said five CDO staff members will be conducting 30-minute sessions with those seeking help with unemployment issues. Mask-wearing, social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols will be observed, and security guards will be available in the Career Center parking lot to help direct people.

The system should allow the Bowling Green KCC to handle 65 customers per day. Krisher said the first two weeks of appointments have already been filled.

With the state facing a backlog of some 80,000 unemployment claims, the slots will no doubt continue to fill up quickly.

Both Krisher and Workforce Development Board Vice President of Outreach and Communications Leslie Witty stress that the local KCC needs to handle claims by appointment only for now in order to be as efficient as possible.

“We’re trying to make it as simple and efficient as possible,” Witty said, “because we know people will be coming in with some frustrations.

“We’ve run rehearsal after rehearsal. We’re taking it seriously.”

Krisher said those persons already involved in a U.I. appeals process will not be able to make appointments now.

She hopes having staff available for in-person appointments will help clear the backlog that has been prevalent in many states during the pandemic.

“We’ve been having to do it all online,” Krisher said. “That’s a big reason why all states are behind. We know that seeing a human can be much more helpful.”

Witty said the Glasgow KCC location is not yet among those the state is opening for in-person services. The others opening this week are in Paducah, Covington, Elizabethtown, Hazard, Hopkinsville, Louisville, Morehead, Owensboro, Prestonsburg and Somerset.

“We hope that by opening some centers we can start to catch up on the backlog,” Witty said.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.