‘No time for red tape’: Kelly announces new executive order to help unemployed as Kansas COVID-19 cases jump 16%

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions from reporters, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Unemployment claims in Kansas have increased over 3,000% since the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting the United States, overwhelming the state’s Department of Labor call center, Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday.

At the beginning of March, the state was getting an average of around 1,800 claims per week. As of Sunday, that number had jumped to over 60,000 claims per week — and the state call center is now receiving an average of 230,000 inquiries per day.

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As a result, Kelly announced at her daily press briefing that she would issue an executive order allowing Kansans to more easily obtain new federal resources for unemployment insurance programs and make more Kansans eligible for unemployment benefits.

All Kansans eligible for unemployment will get $600 more per week under the executive order, Kelly said, doubling total benefits previously granted under state law.

The executive order will also temporarily waive the state’s unemployment weeklong waiting period before filing a claim to benefits. Kansas residents also do not have to be actively seeking work to qualify for unemployment so they can continue practicing social-distancing requirements.

Finally, Kelly said, the executive order also requires employers to notify any separated employees if they qualify for unemployment benefits.

“This flexibility will ensure Kansans and small business owners can secure unemployment insurance that is required at times like this,” she said. “This really is no time for bureaucratic red tape.”

Kelly’s news conference came mere moments after the state Department of Health and Environment announced the state’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 had jumped just over 16% since Monday — from 368 to 428 — and the state confirmed its ninth death from the respiratory virus.

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The age range of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the state ranges from an infant to a 95-year-old, the department said. The confirmed case in an infant was new as of Tuesday — previously, the youngest documented case was in a 4-year-old.

The 428 confirmed cases are out of 5,424 total tests, meaning nearly 8% of tested Kansans are testing positive for the virus. A week prior, on March 24, only 4.4% of tests returned positive.

KDHE is also tracking hospitalization rates for cases where such information is available. The daily report shows 79 of the 255 positive COVID-19 cases that are being tracked have resulted in hospitalization thus far. That’s 31%, which is up from 28.9% on Monday.

In concluding her Tuesday briefing, Kelly encouraged Kansans to stick with the statewide stay-at-home order, which took effect Monday until April 19, and with recommended social-distancing guidelines. Thirty-nine of Kansas’ 105 counties now have a confirmed case of the virus, and the pandemic continues to evolve rapidly, Kelly said.

“Now more than ever we must be kind, and we must support one another,” she said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Together, we will get through this.”

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