The state suspended unemployment benefits for nearly 7,000 Kansans this week who didn’t comply with a new program created by the Legislature to connect people to jobs.
The state reported that there were about 16,000 Kansas who filed unemployment claims who were required to participate in the newly formed My Reemployment Plan, which was designed to help unemployed Kansans reenter the workforce.
The program, passed by the Legislature this year, requires anyone who has received three continuous weeks of unemployment benefits to take steps to find work.
Failure to complete those steps within seven days of being notified by the Commerce Department leads to benefits being suspended until the required information is submitted.
Overall, there were 15,985 people who needed to complete the My Reemployment Plan and 6,976 who had not complied as of Monday. They were sent disqualification notices.
The claimants are disqualified from any federal or state benefits until they comply with the My Reemployment Plan requirements.
Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, the ranking member on the House Commerce Committee, said she thought the My Reemployment program had good intentions because it seeks to help Kansans find their way back into the workforce.
But she had reservations because of other factors that could limit someone’s ability to work outside the home.
“The My Reemployment Plan is a good solution for some Kansas workers. It really is. But not all,” Clayton said.
“To cast this as a perfect solution to get Kansans back to work is a legislative platitude that families in Kansas do not need from us,” she said.
Clayton said she is afraid there are some primary caregivers who are being forced to take low-paying jobs that won’t cover the cost of caring for children or seniors.
She’s said some Kansans are likely to be discouraged to take jobs in public settings because of low vaccination rates and the subsequent resurgence of the COVID-19 variant delta.
“While I do like a lot of the elements that My Reemployment programs does offer, I don’t know if it’s totally realistic as far as this Covidian world in which we all live,” Clayton said.
“We have to find solutions that actually make sense, that are real solutions as opposed to saying, ‘Just get a job.’ It’s not just getting a job; it’s getting the right job.”
Republican state Rep. Sean Tarwater, chair of the House Commerce Committee, didn’t see it the same way.
“We all need to go back to work,” he said. “It’s your choice to go get a vaccination and if you don’t do that, then you’re taking your own your risk.
“It’s not on the rest of the taxpayers to have you sit at home because you’re somehow better than the rest of us and don’t have to work.”
Tarwater expressed concern about whether Kansans were being notified soon enough that they risked having their benefits cut off if they didn’t comply with the program.
“We may need to do a better job of letting them know,” he said.
Tarwater said anyone filing an unemployment claim should be notified at the outset that they will have to enroll in the jobs program after three weeks.
“As soon as they file for unemployment, they should be notified that, ‘Hey, by the way, after three weeks you need to have a resume put together and in to us.'”
The agency said details of the requirement were shared in direct email to Kansans filing claims.
The requirement also was spelled out in several news releases and social media across state agencies.
Mike Beene, director of employment services for the Kansas Commerce Department, conducted 10 television interviews about the program in markets across Kansas, including two in Spanish.
Tarwater said the law was to have started June 1, meaning that anyone who had been receiving continuous benefits for three weeks at that point should have been notified that they were required to participate in the job-search program.
The agency, he said, didn’t start making the notifications until three weeks after the law was supposed to have started. The agency made its first notifications June 23.
Based on interpretation of the bill that created the program, the Labor Department established June 23 as the date to send notifications to claimants.
In the three weeks leading up to the deadline, a news release and social media detailing the requirement were made public and shared by media and others statewide.
“They stretched it out an additional three weeks and didn’t tell anybody until the three weeks was up,” Tarwater said.
“If they had been asking for resumes three weeks before they were due, I would guess we would have gotten a lot more.”