Kansas officials to apply for supplemental jobless benefit program launched by Trump

Gov. Laura Kelly renewed an appeal for a new emergency federal COVID-19 package despite state tax revenue surpassing projections for November. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Gov. Laura Kelly renewed an appeal for a new emergency federal COVID-19 package despite state tax revenue surpassing projections for November. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The administration of Gov. Laura Kelly plans to seek federal approval for Kansas’ participation in a new unemployment benefit program created by an executive memorandum issued by President Donald Trump, state officials said Thursday.

On Aug. 8, Trump directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expend up to $44 billion from its disaster relief fund to provide lost wage assistance to Americans who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. If Kansas’ application is accepted by FEMA, the program would provide eligible claimants an additional $400 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits.

The aid package would deliver $300 weekly from FEMA matched by $100 per week from the state of Kansas. The state portion can be taken from federal appropriations tied to coronavirus. However, to qualify for the supplemental funding a person must be eligible to receive at least $100 of weekly jobless benefits. Applicants also will be required to self-certify they were unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19.

“While I had hoped that 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,” Kelly said. “This is far from a perfect solution, but we want to use every tool available to protect Kansans and our economy.”

An initiative approved by Congress that provided $600 per week in unemployment insurance benefits expired at the end of July. Negotiations on a new bill have broken down between the White House and House Democrats.

Kelly said the Kansas Department of Labor would apply for the FEMA program. States and territories have until Sept. 10 to apply. FEMA’s rules allow states to provide the additional aid retroactively to Aug. 1. This program ends Dec. 27 or when the FEMA money ran out.

Ryan Wright, acting secretary of the Department of Labor, said the program wasn’t a permanent solution. He said Congress should complete work on legislation that financed a more substantive unemployment benefit to needy families during the national health crisis.

“We know Kansans are hurting and we are working to launch the (Lost Wages Assistance) program so that we can assist as many individuals and families as possible,” Wright said.

Since March 15, the state Department of Labor has paid out more than 2 million weekly claims for $1.8 billion in regular unemployment benefits and federal pandemic assistance.