Kansas is applying for President Donald Trump’s expanded unemployment benefits program to help those economically affected by the pandemic, but the weekly amount of benefits to be offered is causing some disagreement.
The state’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas task force met Wednesday to discuss providing $100 from statewide COVID-19 relief funding to match $300 federal funding, a total of $400 in weekly benefits from the Lost Wages Assistance Program.
According to Acting Secretary of Labor Ryan Wright, about 80,000 Kansans would be eligible, costing the state $7.6 million to $9.3 million per week.
In total, the task force estimated about $63 million from statewide CARES funding going toward the program.
But Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, noted that many other states had taken part in the program without the state match, only offering $300 weekly. That match money not spent could be better used for other priorities, such as child care, he argued.
"If we don’t have to spend the $63 million, then we can do other things. If we spend it more on testing, that would probably get us to January, when we will have many other options," Denning said.
Wright said Gov. Laura Kelly went with the $400 route because of the economic urgency of the pandemic and the need to get help out quickly.
"She wanted to get those resources out to folks that have been negatively impacted by the downturn," he said. "This money isn’t sitting in people’s accounts. As soon as these payments are being received by beneficiaries, they’re turning around and putting that back into the economies."
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, appreciated what $400 per week could do short-term but echoed Denning on not forgetting the bigger picture.
"This would help infuse the economy a little bit, but I think long term, what we really want is for our people to be able to work," she said. "The way for them to be able to work (is) we have to have testing and we have to have child care. I’d hate to just spend that extra money when we may need it."
Other uncertainties exist as well. Task force members were unsure what might happen if the program was extended by the federal government, but with no more state matching funds available. In those circumstances, it is unclear whether the initiative would end completely or change to just $300 weekly.
Wright said if the task force and State Finance Council both end up wanting to go the $300 route, the application would be tweaked accordingly.
"I think we have to clear the $400 issue before we address the $300 issue," Wright said.
All five members of the task force’s executive voted to send the proposal to offer a state match to the State Finance Council, though Denning said he would vote no during the council.
The State Finance Council will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Earliest payments for the lost wages program are expected late September, Wright said, with the hope the state can apply this or next week depending on the timeline.