Unemployment applications now available for self-employed Kansans affected by pandemic
photo by: Screenshot/Kansas Governor's Office
A program that expands unemployment benefits to cover self-employed workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is now available in Kansas.
Applications for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which allows self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig workers, religious organization employees, and those lacking sufficient work history to qualify for unemployment assistance, opened Tuesday. Since then, the Kansas Department of Labor has processed over 14,500 initial claims, and nearly 30,000 weekly claims for back pay, Secretary Delía García said Wednesday during Gov. Laura Kelly’s thrice-weekly COVID-19 press briefing.
“I’m excited to take another step forward in providing vital benefits to our hardworking Kansans,” García said.
Those approved for PUA benefits will also receive back pay for the additional $600 in weekly unemployment insurance through funding from the federal CARES Act, García said. Even if a person goes back to work, they will still be given back pay for both programs.
The department expects to actually begin paying claims by May 25. PUA, also created in the CARES Act, will be in effect through Dec. 26, 2020. Kansans can submit PUA claims online by going to pua.getkansasbenefits.gov.
Kansas unemployment numbers
After the national jobs report released last week showed the economy shedding 20.5 million jobs in the month of April and the national unemployment percentage reaching nearly 15%, García said the Kansas Department of Labor is continuing to see claims numbers that illustrate the magnitude of the rapid economic downturn.
From March 15 to May 9, Kansas received 236,412 total initial claims for unemployment, García said.
Last week alone, the state saw 115,536 continued weekly claims for unemployment, illustrating that the job market remains persistently slow, she said.
“These dramatic claims numbers represent hard-working Kansans filing online and on the phone, and we are working hard to serve as many Kansans as we can every day,” García said.
Unemployment payments to this point have totaled over $320 million, including claims paid out for the $600 additional weekly benefit. Those numbers will continue to increase as the state works to pay out the retroactive claims filed since the pandemic took hold in March.
“It took the Great Depression about two and a half years to see the employment declines we’re seeing in just six weeks,” she said.
The department continues to see a call volume of between 150,000 and 200,000 inquiries per day, García said.
Corrections officer deaths
Kelly dedicated the entirety of her prepared remarks Wednesday to remembering George “Bernie” Robare, a 61-year-old correctional officer at the Lansing Correctional Facility who died from COVID-19 complications this week.
Robare worked at Lansing for 36 years, Kelly said, and throughout his life was a “renaissance man” along with being a beloved husband and father. Kelly praised Robare’s work ethic, noting how dedicated he was to his profession.
“He became a beloved and well respected member of that staff,” she said. “He was known to do more than his fair share, and never leave anything undone. (Lansing) will miss him greatly, as will his family.”
A second Lansing staff member died Wednesday after contracting the virus, but Kelly said state officials weren’t yet at a place where they could publicize his name.
In a news release from the Kansas Department of Corrections, the staff member was described as a man over the age of 50 with nearly 20 years of service with the department.
Kansas Department of Corrections Secretary Jeff Zmuda appeared with Kelly and García at Wednesday’s briefing, and he said it had been a “difficult time” for the department.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our employees and those in our custody,” he said.
Zmuda said Kansas is currently not considering the additional release of any prisoners as a result of the pandemic. A release program had been in the works before the outbreak at Lansing became more severe.
More than 750 of the approximately 1,700 inmates at Lansing have tested positive for COVID-19, and three have died. Nearly 90 staff members have also contracted the disease, according to state data.
COVID-19 case update
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said Wednesday that the state has confirmed 352 new COVID-19 cases since it last reported data on Monday, and the state’s cumulative total now sits at 7,468.
The state also confirmed six more deaths attributed to the virus, and the cumulative death toll from the virus now sits at 164.
Norman said KDHE is monitoring 88 outbreaks of COVID-19, 40 of which are considered closed or no longer active.
Those outbreaks can be traced to the following locations:
36 from private gatherings, 19 of which are closed, resulting in 329 cases and four deaths.
26 from long-term care facilities, nine of which are closed, resulting in 593 cases and 95 deaths.
Nine from religious gatherings, eight of which are closed, resulting in 114 cases and nine deaths.
Eight from meat packing plants, resulting in 1,536 cases and four deaths.
Three from group living arrangements, two of which are closed, resulting in 41 cases and zero deaths.
Three from correctional facilities, resulting in 864 cases and five deaths.
Three from health care facilities, two of which are closed, resulting in 22 cases and zero deaths.
Kansas on Wednesday received its first of four shipments of remdesivir, a drug that recently garnered emergency authorization use from the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. Norman said the first shipment included 10 cases of the drug, which can treat around 50 patients.
“We’re hoping this is something we can add to our arsenal in the state of Kansas,” Norman said. “It’s a start.”