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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kansans set to lose 13 weeks’ jobless aid

By Dion Lefler
The Wichita Eagle

Jobless Kansans are about to lose access to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits, because the state’s unemployment rate will be too low to qualify for the federally funded program, state officials said Friday.

At present, displaced Kansas workers can qualify for as much as 86 weeks of unemployment. The change will drop that to 73 weeks in January – and that might be shortened further depending on how Congress handles negotiations during the next few days to extend unemployment benefits.

It’s kind of a good-news, bad news situation, depending on your point of view, said Kathie Sparks, deputy secretary of labor.

“It’s good that our unemployment rate is going down. That means people are finding jobs,” she said. “It is very difficult for the families who have not.”

The state Labor Department wanted to warn recipients who have received 73 weeks of unemployment and are in their final 13 weeks of benefits that they won’t get any unemployment money after Jan. 7.

“We want these families to have as much notice as possible,” she said.

Sparks says 1,565 households in Kansas are receiving the extended benefits. Residents were being notified that the program is ending, she said.

The first 26 weeks of unemployment are paid from an insurance fund supported by a tax on employers throughout the state.

In response to the recession, Washington stepped in and is currently funding 100 percent of the benefits paid after the 26th week. Those benefits are set to expire Dec. 31, though Congress is working on extension.

Regardless of the outcome of the Congressional negotiations, Kansas is certain to lose that last 13 weeks of unemployment.

The reason is a “trigger” that halts a state’s participation in the program when the unemployment rate drops below 6.5 percent.

In October, seasonally adjusted unemployment was at 6.7 percent.

State officials said they expect it to drop below 6.5 percent when the November figures are released Tuesday.

Even if the rate were higher, Kansas would still be disqualified for the final 13 weeks of benefits as of Jan. 7, because the unemployment rate is lower than in the past two years, officials said.

“This program, no matter what you see in the (national) news, is ending in Kansas,” Sparks said.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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