By Adam Strunk
In the last two weeks, more than 79,000 Kansans (2.7 percent of the state’s total population) have filed new unemployment claims.
The state released the numbers during a Thursday press conference.
For context, Kansas’s highest rate of claims during the Great Recession in the late 2000s was 83,000.
The massive spike follows the statewide slowdown to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Nationally, claim filings jumped to 10 million filings nationally, Kansas Labor Secretary Delîa Garcia said at the press conference.
Unemployment insurance is taken out of employees’ paychecks each pay period. But for those who have never used it, the process can seem cumbersome and unfamiliar.
Locally, if you have been furloughed or laid off during the COVID-19 shutdown, you qualify for unemployment insurance benefits.
The best way to do that is go to the website getkansasbenefits.gov.
On that website, you will then create a log-in account and fill out a claim.
The state then reviews your claim and issues a notice of the amount of monetary benefits you’re entitled to receive.
The maximum payment in Kansas per week is $488. However, the recent federal stimulus law passed during the COVID-19 virus promises to add $600 per week on unemployment payments.
During the shutdown time period, the state has also waived a number of requirements to receive unemployment benefits. If you’re laid off, furloughed or have had hours cut due to the COVID-19 slow down, the customary week you have to wait before filing a claim has been waived.
Requirements that you actively search for work during the time have also been waived.
Once the claim is filed and accepted, employees have to renew their claim each week to continue to receive unemployment benefits.
You can also file a claim by calling the Kansas Department of Labor at 316-269-0633. Garcia asked people to avoid using the phone number unless they lack Internet access or are unable to use the website.
Last Monday, the department had 877,0000 calls on its phone lines.
The surge in people seeking benefits has overwhelmed the Department of Labor in Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly said at the same press conference.
She said, in response, the state was working on contracting with Amazon to increase the amount of people handling calls and priorities and redirecting the calls.
She said state employees were being reassigned from other departments to take calls, and previous and retired employees were returning to work to take calls.
“When I said all hands on deck, I meant it, and state employees are responding,” she said. “To every Kansan who has hit a wall in request for claims, please note: we’re doing everything we can.”
She said that the state will make sure claims get paid, and it’s working to increase its ability to handle the claims.
“We have one goal: fix the problems quickly and make sure all unemployed Kansans receive benefits in a timely manner,” she said.
For those who continue to call the hotline number, she said to stay on the line and not hang up, as the action moves them to the back of the queue when they call again.
On a positive note, Garcia said her staff in the office has already doubled to handle the load and that staffing could move up to 70 people soon.
She also said that the state’s unemployment insurance system is solvent, with more than $1 billion in its trust.
She said using the max amount of claims from the recession, 83,000, the state modeled that the fund would be able to handle claims into 2021.
One would hope that the shutdown is over far before that time period.
Cases of COVID-19 are expected to peak at the end of April before tapering off in the summer, though a resurgence is possible come fall.
Kansas had 552 confirmed cases and 13 deaths as of April 2.
For far more detailed unemployment information, visit getkansasbenefits.gov.