Kansans receiving unemployment benefits due to job loss caused by COVID-19 should soon receive much-needed support in the form of up to $400 in additional payments from a federal unemployment program.
The program temporarily provides an additional $300 per week for those who are receiving unemployment benefits. Each state may also choose to add an additional $100 state funding, which Gov. Laura Kelly recommended last week, despite previously questioning the program’s legality.
Business leaders and legislators alike said the extra money provided by the federal government is needed now more than ever as the high number of unemployment claims statewide continue amid the pandemic.
“One advantage I see with the additional funds is it gets the money to the people in need right now and more quickly than if we use those funds elsewhere,” said Kansas Sen. Tom Hawk (D-Manhattan). “I can live either way, but we know people need the money now.”
Hawk was among the legislators and citizens on Kelly’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) task force who voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the Lost Wages Assistance program with the additional $100, despite a debate over where those funds would be best allocated. The proposal now goes to the State Finance Council, which is set to make a decision on the final payout amount on Thursday afternoon.
Currently, the minimum weekly benefit amount in Kansas is $125 and the maximum is $503. Should the council approve the additional $100, those applying for benefits could see anywhere from $525 to just over $900.
National estimates indicate federal funds from the program last anywhere from three to seven weeks. Once federal funds run out, the state would also cease to pay the additional $100 and those funds could be returned to the SPARK task force for redistribution.
The Kansas Department of Labor estimated around 80,000 Kansans would be eligible for additional payments for that time frame, costing the state $7.6 million to $9.3 million per week, or around $63 million in CARES Act funding for the expected duration.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) was the loudest voice against the additional state payment. He voted to send the proposal through with the additional $100 but said he would not support the action during Thursday’s State Finance Council meeting.
“That $63 million will evaporate after seven weeks. I think we can go the $300 route and spend the funds on other important areas,” Denning said. “If we spend it on testing or childcare that would probably get us to January. My question is why the governor wants to spend the extra money when most other states aren’t.”
Acting Labor secretary Ryan Wright said the decision was made in large part because unemployment claims have not slowed. From Aug. 15 to Aug. 22, the Kansas Department of Labor made 76,199 unemployment payments, he said.
Wright said Kelly felt the additional funds could provide a secondary benefit to the economy as well.
“The economic situation is still critical in some key parts of the state, like Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita and for many people,” Wright said. “This money is usually being turned around and immediately spent in the economy, so it does have an immediate benefit for those small businesses locally that are still also struggling.”
In addition to standard requirements to register for unemployment, those seeking to apply for the additional payment must certify their unemployment as caused by COVID-19 and must be receiving at least $100 in unemployment from other programs.