Kansas will not withdraw from expanded federal unemployment programs, Gov. Laura Kelly says

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Gov. Laura Kelly talks with members of the media Thursday at a Statehouse event. Kelly said the state won't pull out of expanded federal unemployment programs, a move she said earlier this year she was considering.

Kansas isn't set to withdraw from expanded federal unemployment benefits started during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Laura Kelly said Thursday. 

Kelly previously said she was weighing such a decision, with business groups stepping up their lobbying efforts to support halting the increased payouts. Most states with Republican governors have opted to end their participation, arguing it was stifling workers from looking for jobs at a time when many businesses are claiming a shortage of workers.

The benefits, originally passed by Congress in the spring of 2020, include a $300-per-week bonus for those collecting benefits, as well as an extended benefits for those who have exhausted regular unemployment and an effort to provide support to gig workers and the self-employed. 

States are required to give 30 days notice for ending their participation in the programs, meaning there would be little point in Kansas withdrawing, as the programs end on Sept. 6.

Instead, Kelly said the state had aimed to beef up child care programs and other ways of supporting individuals to get them back into the workforce.

"We will probably stay in," Kelly told reporters. " ... What we did is we evaluated what happened in other states that had eliminated those benefits and we really found that wasn't a silver bullet that is going to solve the workforce problem."

Opponents to ending the benefits countered that economic indicators had rebounded to pre-pandemic levels anyway, with a New York Times report in Missouri showing that hiring didn't budge after Gov. Mike Parson stopped his state's participation. 

Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stillwell, said KDOL officials had previously told him they planned to end participation in the federal programs in September in exchange for legislators altering a plan, included in a sweeping unemployment modernization bill, to curb the maximum number of weeks benefits could be paid out.

More:Gov. Laura Kelly may end Kansas’ participation in federal unemployment programs to incentivize workers

He said he hoped the agency would "stick by their word" if the benefits were extended, something some Democrats in Congress are pushing for, and criticized workers who had not yet gone back to work because of the pandemic.

Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, talks with members of the media Thursday afternoon.

"They can walk into just about any store and get a vaccine and get back into the workforce," Tarwater told reporters. "COVID should no longer be an excuse to not work. We all woke up this morning and went to work, why didn't they? Are they special? Why are they different than us?"

Deputy KDOL Secretary Peter Brady said the department was preparing for the benefits to end in September and would be engaging with claimants so they know their expanded payouts would end.

"We will do the best we can to get that information out there," Brady said.

More:More women left work when jobs evaporated or to care for children. How will they be affected by pandemic fallout?

Nearly 7,000 residents kicked off unemployment this week

Kansas saw a marked uptick of initial UI claims earlier this month, although claims dipped back down again last week.

Nationally, U.S. Department of Labor figures showed jobless claims increase by 50,000 Americans last week amid concern over the spread of the Delta COVID-19 variant, although economists say it is too soon to say if this will become a long-term economic trend.

Officials at the Department of Commerce told legislators Thursday that roughly 7,000 individuals had their unemployment benefits halted this week because they did not participate in a newly mandated program, called My Reemployment, requiring job-seekers complete an online program aimed at helping them find work more quickly.

It comes on top of the reinstatement of the work search requirements in the state, which occurred earlier this year, although Mike Beene, director of workforce development at the Department of Commerce, said many individuals were still in the process of re-adjusting to the mandates.

"The activity of a work search requirement is almost a cultural shift for people right now because they have gone so long during the pandemic without that requirement," Beene told the state's Unemployment Modernization Council.

Kelly said her office wasn't thrilled with the new requirements, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, and would "continue to work with those 7,000 people to rectify the situation so they can continue to receive benefits."