Fight looms over future of federal unemployment benefits in Kansas; Experts weigh in

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The state of federal unemployment extensions in Kansas remains unknown, as the Governor plans to meet with business officials in the coming days.

Governor Laura Kelly is planning to meet with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and one controversial issue expected to arise is whether the state will continue increased federal unemployment payments.

The Chamber, along with some GOP leaders, have urged the governor to end the federal extensions, pointing to an ongoing labor shortage in the state.

“We’ve seen a particularly hard hit in the restaurant and hospitality sector, certainly, some retailers have been impacted,” said Dan Murray, executive director of the state’s small business association, NFIB. “If Kansans are getting paid more to stay at home than to return back to work, then we’re going to have a hard time getting the Kansas economy going again.”

Murray told Kansas Capitol Bureau on Tuesday about his organization’s most recent jobs report, which shows 44% of small businesses having a hard time filling jobs.

“That 44% number is 22 points higher than our 48-year historical average in the state,” he said.

Murray joined the list of businesses included in a letter to the governor sent by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, calling for an end to the weekly $300 boost from the latest relief package.

However, some Kansans are relying on the extra weekly payments to cope with the financial turmoil caused by the pandemic.

Some legal experts, like Marilyn Harp, agree. Harp, the executive director of Kansas Legal Services, a non-profit law firm, has spent 40 years working with people struggling with unemployment claims and appeals. She said it’s an ongoing issue, and that many factors can make it difficult for people to return to work.

“During the pandemic, we’ve certainly seen a huge number of people coming to us about unemployment benefits,” Harp said. “Some of those people were dealing with kids and school situations, and those kinds of things.”

Murray agreed that the pandemic created many challenges, especially for single parents and “dual-working” households. Some parents had to stay home to take care of their children as they adjusted to a remote learning environment.

However, Murray said as jobs open up, and some of the earlier pandemic worries begin to subside, people should feel encouraged to get back to work.

“We know that the federal supplemental payments are not the only thing keeping people from getting back to work, but it’s certainly a piece to the puzzle.”

The American Rescue Plan extends federal benefit programs, like FPUC, PUA, and PEUC, until September 4, 2021.

At least 22 states have decided to end some of the programs early. The governor has previously said that she has not made a “final decision” on the matter.

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