Archive for Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Sebelius to sign jobless benefits bill

Legislation will extend unemployment aid two weeks beyond limit

April 8, 2003


— Legislation extending unemployment benefits for an estimated 17,000 Kansans in the next fiscal year is on its way to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who plans to sign it, an aide said Monday.

"It is important to get this money into the hands of nonworking Kansans as quickly as possible," said Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran-Basso. "The governor is happy to be able to get them some help."

Under the bill, two extra weeks of aid would be available to unemployed Kansans who had exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits and 13 weeks of federal benefits.

The additional benefits are expected to cost $10.2 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The money is to come from a $78 million federal grant the state received last year to shore up its unemployment compensation fund.

Legislators approved the extra benefits late last week, before beginning a three-week recess, in a compromise with the Democratic governor.

Sebelius had wanted to eliminate for one year the one-week waiting period for unemployed Kansans to begin receiving benefits. That measure would have aided about 51,000 people, at a cost of $15.1 million.

Business groups and some Republican legislators had argued for keeping the entire federal grant in the state's unemployment trust fund, fearing employers' taxes would be raised if the trust fund's balance declined too far.

Last year, the state collected $182 million from employers but paid out $360 million in unemployment benefits. The trust fund held $368 million at the start of March.

Republican legislators worked with Sebelius on the compromise bill that was approved on a 39-1 Senate vote Thursday and a 118-1 House vote on Friday.

Rep. Eric Carter, R-Overland Park, was the sole House dissenter. Carter cast what he considered "a pro-business vote" and said Monday he believed many House members backed the bill only because they feared being perceived as having voted against jobless workers.

"We have a tremendous amount of pressure on the unemployment system as it is," Carter said.

Besides providing extended benefits, the bill also abolishes the state's practice of reducing an individual's benefits by 50 percent of any Social Security payments or railroad pension he or she receives. The change, supported by Sebelius, will provide an additional $1.2 million in benefits to older jobless Kansans during the next fiscal year.

The bill is expected to be presented by next week to Sebelius, who will then have 10 days to sign it.

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