Gov. Kelly deflects GOP’s demand to opt Kansas out of $300 weekly federal jobless aid

photo by: Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly says she won't join a group of Republican governors by opting Kansas out early from a federal unemployment program providing the jobless with an extra $300 weekly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly doesn’t plan on withdrawing Kansas early from the $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit to encourage more people to return to work amid complaints by employers of a labor shortage.

Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation argue federal aid during the COVID-19 pandemic combined with Kansas benefits of up to $488 per week had become a disincentive for people to accept available jobs.

“At this time, Governor Kelly does not intend to end the federal unemployment benefit programs early,” a spokeswoman for the Democratic governor said. “While the Governor will monitor this situation closely over the coming months, her primary focus remains on continuing her administration’s record-setting efforts recruiting new businesses and jobs to Kansas.”

The federal American Rescue Plan passed in March extended $300 weekly unemployment benefits to September.

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall and U.S. Reps. Jake LaTurner, Tracey Mann and Ron Estes, all Kansas Republicans, recommended Kelly end the state’s participation in the federal unemployment program. A dozen governors have committed to take that step in June or July.

“It has been more than a year since the pandemic’s beginning, and we are beginning to see a return to normalcy thanks to the rapid development of safe and effective vaccines,” said Estes, who represents the 4th District in the Wichita region. “Yet, small businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open because the government is paying people to stay home instead of work.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Kansas in March had 1.54 million people employed and 46,700 unemployed for a jobless rate of 3.7%. That level of employment matched the state’s total in December 2019 prior to the pandemic, but the federal bureau said the state had 10,000 more people classified as unemployed in March than fit that definition in December 2019.

At the peak of the pandemic in terms of Kansas unemployment, the federal bureau said, Kansas had a jobless rate of 12.6% in April 2020 with 1.29 million people employed and 187,000 out of work.

Mann, of the largely rural 1st District, said supplemental federal unemployment assistance was keeping businesses from hiring personnel needed to return “normal order” to the Kansas economy.

“Policies championed by Democrats that embrace permanent welfare will dramatically thin our workforce, cripple small businesses and rob capable individuals of the dignity that comes with hard work. We cannot sustain this,” said LaTurner, who represents the 2nd District in eastern Kansas.

Marshall said he’d heard stories of manufacturers struggling to recall employees and restaurants remaining closed due to unavailability of staff.

“Homes aren’t being built because of a lack of labor and hotels are turning away business because they don’t have employees,” the senator said. “Even the broader supply chain is beginning to feel the impacts.”

On Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said he intended to opt the state out of the federal unemployment benefit program in June. Other states doing likewise include Iowa, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, South Carolina and Tennessee.

— Tim Carpenter reports for Kansas Reflector.


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