FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The longtime state executive who inherited oversight of Kentucky's beleaguered unemployment insurance system during the COVID-19 pandemic is stepping down as labor secretary.
Labor Secretary Larry Roberts' retirement, effective at the end of June, was announced Monday by Gov. Andy Beshear. Roberts' career in state government stretches back to 1973.
The Democratic governor also said he selected another veteran state official, Jamie Link, to succeed Roberts in leading the state Labor Cabinet, beginning July 1.
In announcing the appointment, Beshear said Link is “committed to standing with our labor unions, protecting our workers and helping Kentucky families climb out of this pandemic.”
Link promised to continue efforts to “resolve and remedy Kentucky’s unemployment insurance challenges” and to focus on “the needs and well-being of all Kentucky workers.”
Beshear decided about a year ago to shift the unemployment office into the Labor Cabinet. The unemployment office had been housed in the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
Like other states, Kentucky was overwhelmed by record-setting waves of unemployment claims as the pandemic temporarily shuttered or scaled back many businesses.
Tens of thousands of Kentuckians found themselves in limbo for months as they waited for their jobless claims to be processed. Beshear’s administration eventually hired an outside company to help work through the claims backlog. The governor pointed to budget and staffing cuts that hobbled the unemployment insurance system well before he took office.
A blistering audit, however, revealed a “systemic failure of leadership on all levels” in the state’s response to the unemployment surge, Republican Auditor Mike Harmon said earlier this year.
On Monday, Beshear turned to another veteran of state government to assume the role as labor secretary.
Link most recently served as executive director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority. He previously served as deputy secretary of the state tourism and finance cabinets, and was deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Steve Beshear, the current governor's father.
Andy Beshear praised Roberts for a career dedicated to “protecting our workers and their rights.” He said Roberts is retiring to spend more time with his family. Roberts held various jobs in 33 years with the Labor Cabinet, including a previous stint as secretary in Steve Beshear's administration.
Roberts called it a privilege to serve with the current governor “during this difficult time in our history.”
“I have always strived to make a positive difference in the labor-management community and I hope that is my legacy,” Roberts said.