The state of Kansas’ application to receive a Federal Emergency Management Action Grant has been approved and the $63 million in funding will allow Kansas to provide $300 per week – on top of their regular unemployment benefit – to those unemployed due to COVID-19.
In early August, President Donald Trump signed an executive order making $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Funds available in the form of Lost Wages Assistance. The funds help to partially restore the $600-a-week jobless aid, which was part of the CARES Act funding approved in March. That benefit expired at the end of July, and so far, Congress has not been able to agree on a program to replace or extend that funding.
Kansas was a late comer to sign up to pass along the $300-a-week federal aid to its unemployed. By Sept. 22, 41 states had already signed up for the funding. Part of Gov. Laura Kelly’s hesitancy to sign up for the program may have been the originally announced requirement for states to sweeten the payment to $400 per week by adding $100 per week to the benefit package.
The state-level contribution, received immediate and bipartisan pushback. Nationally, state budget shortfalls are projected to reach $555 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and officials from many states claimed that funding an additional $100 was impossible.
Within a week, the White House made the $100 in state funding optional, but Gov. Kelly, concerned about the economic wellbeing of Kansas workers, proposed submitting an application for funding that included the extra $100 in funding. However, the State Finance Council, led by Republican leaders of the Kansas House and Senate, voted down the additional benefits.
“While I had hoped that the United States Senate would return early from vacation and extend federal benefits, I could not sit by idly while many Kansans are still facing unemployment,” Gov. Kelly said. “This is far from a perfect solution, but we want to use every tool available to protect Kansans and our economy.”
So far, only Montana, West Virginia and Kentucky have committed to paying an additional $100 to laid-off workers on top of the $300 supplement. South Dakota has said it does not intend to apply for the money.
States applying for the federal grants will receive an "initial obligation of three weeks of needed funding," according to FEMA, which is distributing the money. FEMA will then make additional disbursements to states on a weekly basis "in order to ensure that funding remains available for the states who apply for the grant assistance," according to a memo.
The program is set to last until the funding runs out or Dec. 6, 2020, whichever comes first.
With Kansas’ application approved, implementation of LWA program will take several weeks to execute, and KDOL estimates that claimants will begin receiving benefits no sooner than late September. For those who are eligible, payments will be retroactive to the week ending Aug. 1.
Eligibility requirements differ from the FPUC program. Unlike the $600 a week program that expired in July, a claimant must self-certify her or his unemployment or partial unemployment is due to disruptions caused by COVID-19. In addition, only people who are receiving at least $100 in unemployment assistance through regular state programs or other aid initiatives like a shared-work program are eligible for the boosted benefits, according to a White House memo. Benefits are calculated based in part on a worker's former income, which could mean that some of the country's lowest earners are excluded.
Since March 15, KDOL has paid out more than two million weekly claims totaling over $1.8 billion between regular unemployment and the federal pandemic programs. Unemployment in Kansas reached a high during the pandemic of approximately 12%, but has decreased to 7.7%, a rate below the current national unemployment rate of 10.2%.
For more info, or to apply for unemployment benefits, go to www.GetKansasBenefits.gov.