TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The Kansas senate debated a massive unemployment bill set to make some changes to the state’s unemployment system.
State senators took an initial voice vote on Tuesday. The Senate plans to take final action on Wednesday.
Lawmakers are hoping to address some of the issues the Kansas Department of Labor has faced during the pandemic. The state has pointed to an outdated computer system, which has led to payment delays and paying out fraudulent claims.
“There are guidelines in place regarding the much needed modernization of the technology within KDOL as well as provisions addressing the proliferation of fraudulent claims that came about in the state,” said Senator Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park.
Some Republican lawmakers have called the legislation a long-term fix to the state’s unemployment system, pushing for more oversight and security, addressing what some are calling significant losses from unemployment fraud in the state.
Initially, the bill called for $450 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to be transferred to the state’s unemployment trust fund. State senators adopted an amendment on Tuesday that would cut this amount down to $250 million.
Some lawmakers are trying to protect employers, who are expecting to pay thousands more in taxes, because of fraudulent claims.
“A lot of the loss was legitimate, and a lot of the loss was fraud, and so what is the most responsible way of replacing that,” said Senator Kristen O’Shea, R-Topeka. “Steadily growing that back over the years at a rate that doesn’t hurt our employers too much is also an important component of this bill.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have spoken out in opposition of some provisions in the bill, which would also cut down on unemployment week eligibility.
Currently, unemployment benefits are limited to a maximum of between 16 and 26 weeks as determined by Kansas law and are only payable under certain circumstances as described in this guide. Benefits are paid from a trust that is funded by employers through their unemployment insurance taxes.
The bill notes that people would be eligible for up to 20 weeks of unemployment.
House Minority Leader, Representative Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, voiced his concerns when the House voted to pass the bill earlier in March.
“I cannot in good conscious vote for a bill that cuts unemployment benefits and complicates the process.”House Minority Leader, Representative Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita
The bill would also require a committee to oversee the I.T. modernization project to update the computer system for the state’s unemployment office.
Click here, for updates on the bill.