Topeka Unemployed Kansans have started getting an extra $25 in their weekly jobless benefits, and food stamp recipients will see an increase in benefits because of the federal stimulus package, state officials said Monday.
Additional federal funds are coming as Kansas and other states suffer during the recession. The number of unemployed Kansans has more than doubled from a year ago and those receiving food stamps increased 10 percent within a year.
Secretary of Labor Jim Garner said Monday the additional $25 is being added to weekly unemployment benefits, which average $328. The additional money will continue as long as a person remains eligible for unemployment benefits.
Currently, an unemployed Kansan receives 26 weeks of regular benefits and 20 weeks of extended benefits. The Department of Labor says more than 59,000 Kansans received jobless benefits in February, compared with about 24,000 for February 2008.
Garner said about 23,400 people filed unemployment claims for the first time in January, compared with 13,000 in January 2008.
“That $25 extra a week means an extra sack of groceries for the home,” Garner said. “It means a tank of gas is available for someone to be able to go to that job interview.”
He called the $25 is “a big deal for our state” because it meant $5.9 million in additional spending ability during February and similar numbers for future months.
Garner said the state also can get an additional $68 million from the stimulus package for unemployment benefits if it changes its law calculating eligibility. A bill to do that is being drafted for the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
But Committee Chairman Steve Brunk, a Bel Aire Republican said: “We want to see first what kinds of strings are attached to it.
“We want to make sure we aren’t changing the law where it would harm businesses in the long run. Does it cost us more in the long run to take the money?”
Don Jordan, secretary of social and rehabilitation services, said the stimulus package will generate an additional $12.6 million in the current budget year and $53.9 million in the fiscal year starting July 1 for the food stamp program.
He said benefits will increase 13.6 percent starting in April and remain at that level through the end of September 2010. For a family of four, with a monthly maximum of $588 in benefits, the stimulus means an additional $80.
Paul Johnson, of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said the increased funding will help struggling families.
“This is kind of a nutritional safety net that’s vital to families, he said.
The food stamp program is funded by the federal government and administered by the state. Eligibility is based on the household income being 130 percent or less of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that means a maximum monthly gross income of $2,297.
SRS says in January almost 207,000 Kansans in about 90,000 households received food stamps, compared with fewer than 187,000 people in about 85,000 households for the same period a year before.
About one-third of eligible Kansans don’t apply for food stamps, Jordan said.
“Some believe there’s a stigma,” he said. “Often, you find that among the elderly.”