Virus Outbreak Kansas Unemployment

In this March 20, 2020 file photo, Kansas Commerce Secretary David Toland speaks as Labor Secretary Delia Garcia, right, watches during a news conference, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan.

(The Center Square) – The Kansas state legislature has passed a bill that overhauls its unemployment benefit system.

HB 2196 establishes a Modernization Council to oversee updates to the state's computer system. Eric Stafford, vice president of government affairs for the Kansas Chamber, told The Center Square that the Kansas Department of Labor currently operates a computer system and database that’s more than 40 years old, making the process slow and difficult for both employers, claimants and department staff.

The bill also ensures an infusion of federal funds into the UI trust fund to help build it back to healthy levels; establishes the My Reemployment Plan, which focuses on getting unemployed individuals and hiring companies paired together; changes the law regarding the duration of benefits; and strengthens the system against those attempting to claim fraudulent benefits.

"To its credit, the unemployment bill does substantial work in limiting scammers and giving relief to identity theft victims," Michael Austin, director of the Sandlian Center for Entrepreneurial Government at Kansas Policy Institute, told The Center Square. "However, the bill is a Band-aid to the larger problem of high unemployment caused, in part, by shutdowns and business restrictions that have long-outlived their usefulness."

Stafford said that it was clear almost from the beginning of the pandemic the state’s unemployment benefits system was unable to handle the influx of UI applications nor able to prevent fraudulent claims.

"The massive Kansas unemployment system is an unintended consequence of state COVID policy," Austin said. "On top of the pandemic itself, the state government's political decision to close schools, businesses and issue stay-at-home orders placed an unbearable demand for relief."

Austin said the state also relaxed unemployment checks and balances during the pandemic, such as work requirements and the maximum number of weeks to draw unemployment benefits.

"We believe with adequate oversight of the IT modernization project and holding employers harmless under neutral rate tables that avoid tax increases, we believe we shouldn’t have any problems like we experienced going forward," Stafford said.

"Government must make it as easy as possible for Kansans to get back to work," Austin said. "It’s about creating the right incentives. Limit the uncertainty of potential shutdowns, lower taxes, and streamline regulations for businesses will fix our unemployment system far better than tinkering with the unemployment system."