‘I’ve not talked with Labor this week’: Gov. Kelly unclear on status of federal unemployment extension benefits in Kansas

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — As other states roll out unemployment benefits this week, Kansas lags behind, and according to Governor Laura Kelly, it’s unclear why.

“I honestly cannot give you a clear answer on that because I’ve not talked with Labor this week,” Gov. Kelly said during her weekly press conference Wednesday. “I’ll check on the new federal unemployment money and find out where that is.”

Some news reports show the majority of states have already started giving out money to people receiving unemployment under the new relief deal. However, when asked about when Kansans can expect to receive payments, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Labor sent the following in an email Wednesday:

Links to press releases released on December 23, 2020, and January 5, 2021, both provided the following statement, also cited on the department’s Facebook page :

“Currently, KDOL is awaiting additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on how to
implement the provisions of the Continued Assistance Act. The agency will not be able to issue
payments under the new law until this guidance has been issued.”

Kansas Department of Labor

A press release issued by the U.S. Department of Labor announced new guidance on this act was issued to states on unemployment insurance programs on December 30, 2020.

Kansas’ Capitol Bureau reached out to the U.S. Department of Labor for confirmation. A DOL spokesperson issued the following statement in an email Wednesday:

“The Department has issued all of the necessary guidance on the Continued Assistance Act for states to implement or extend the relevant UI programs. Some states have started benefit payments.”

U.S. Department of Labor

Unemployment problems have plagued Kansas ever since the pandemic started, with reports of more Kansans struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. From waiting hours to have the phone system hang up on them – to fraud – to a lack of answers. Those who have lost their jobs are fed up.

“It just feels like they threw up their hands and were like, ‘we’ll get to it, when we get to it, sorry’ well, that doesn’t help me pay my car payment or eat,” said Serenity Walters, of Lawrence, who’s been waiting to receive her PUA payment since September.

According to the governor and the Kansas Department of Labor, progress has been made in addressing unemployment claims in the state. Gerald Grasso, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Labor said in an email Wednesday, as of January 11, 2021, the regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) backlog number is at about 723 claims, down from 25,000 claims in June.

In regard to legitimate Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims, Grasso said as of Jan. 12, 2021, 13,550 PUA claims are in the determination process. The department has also worked the PUA backlog down from 25,000 to 9,912 since the build-out was completed in Nov. 2020. Grasso spoke more about the status of regular UI claims in his email.

” KDOL has made progress eliminating the backlog of Regular UI claims, but we are limited in what we can do to speed up this process,” he wrote. “This is due to the timelines that are set in statute. Still, we are making headway and are on target to eliminate this backlog.”

Grasso said more information will be made available when the department has it, and there are no further updates outside of the publicly issued statements made by the department at this time.

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