“Buffalo on the loose in Lexington,” Lexington’s WTVQ reported.

Apparently, a large male buffalo got loose from its enclosure near Jacks Creek Pike on Tuesday evening, breaking through a neighbor’s fence and managing to hide until officers called off the search when skies grew dark.

But this chaotic hunt has nothing on the mind-boggling incompetence on the loose in Frankfort displayed by Gov. Andy Beshear’s inept response to COVID-19 and his administration’s bungling of Kentucky’s unemployment insurance system when it was most needed.

Where’s the competence in hiring a small-town lawyer with as much knowledge of the state’s unemployment system as I have about buffalo simply because he gave money to — and knocked on doors for — Beshear’s gubernatorial campaign?

What I know about buffalo is they’re really large — like the big run on an already antiquated unemployment system by around 1.5 million Kentuckians forced to file for jobless benefits due to Beshear’s ham (apologies to the buffalo)-fisted measures.

The governor shut down the state even though he knew the system which processes jobless benefits was ill-equipped to handle the massive number of claims he should have anticipated would be filed.

Such incompetence resulted in the system utterly failing thousands of Kentuckians relying upon it to keep them fed and alive.

While the governor’s feel-good fan club rightly protests COVID19 can’t be blamed on the governor, me doth protest in response that the virus isn’t responsible for the state’s unemployment fiasco — including 400,000 emails from Kentuckians seeking help which state Auditor Mike Harmon discovered were left callously unread with many even archived — by incompetent bureaucrats.

When the administration realized the political fallout that would occur when Kentuckians discovered there was no real contingency plan to make sure unemployment benefits were provided in a timely manner, it severely overcorrected, implementing an “auto-pay” policy to hand out benefits for the first two weeks without determining submitted claims’ accuracy or even applicants’ eligibility.

According to Harmon, $655 million in state and federal unemployment dollars were paid without claimants even reporting their wages — a violation of federal law.

The auditor deemed it impossible to determine either how much was overpaid or even still owed to claimants.

“Aw, he’s just a Republican who wants to be governor,” Beshear’s Democratic partisans charge.

But even inspector general Maryellen Mynear was forced to acknowledge the incompetence, writing the auto-pay policy “combined to weaken checks and balances intended to ensure claimant eligibility and benefits accuracy.”

The system is so incompetent that despite Beshear’s reckless auto-pay policy, thousands went months without receiving any benefits and it can’t tell how many eligible Kentuckians still haven’t received responses to their applications.

Incompetence apparently isn’t the only thing on the loose in Frankfort.

Harmon formally notified Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office of possible criminal activity by experienced state unemployment employees who appear to have taken advantage of an incompetent director and the auto-pay policy to file fraudulent claims and override “stops” designed to prevent such improper payments from being released into their accounts.

The governor’s cancel-culture buddies’ knee-jerk reaction probably will be to dismiss it as politics by a gubernatorial wannabe.

Not exactly.

Again, Mynear, the inspector general, concurs with the auditor, writing “certain experienced OUI employees appear to have exploited known or perceived loopholes within the pandemic unemployment process to obtain monetary benefits for part-time jobs while still fully employed in and compensated for their state jobs.”

Pampered unemployment-insurance bureaucrats have likely buffaloed Kentucky, taking advantage of incompetent management to collect benefits for which they’re not eligible while failing to do their jobs to meet dire needs of fellow Kentuckians struggling to deal with the upheaval caused by this governor’s failure to adequately prepare for the lockdown he instigated.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

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