Number of Kansans receiving unemployment dips as claims continue to rise

Posted at 12:46 PM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 13:46:21-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As unemployment continues to rise in Kansas, the state actually paid benefits to fewer residents for the week ending May 16 than it had the two weeks before.

According to new data released Wednesday by the Kansas Department of Labor, the number of Kansans receiving unemployment dropped by 5,732 people last week.

The state had paid benefits to 92,171 individuals for the week ending May 2 and 93,888 individuals for the week ending May 9, but that figure dipped to 88,136 individuals last week.

The drop comes despite the state adding 11,447 new claims last week in addition to the 13,002 initial claims filed the week before.

More than a quarter million Kansas residents — 260,861, or roughly 9 percent of the state's population — have filed unemployment claims during the last two months, but the state has been slow to get money into the bank accounts of displaced workers.

Initial unemployment claims peaked in late March and early April as stay-at-home orders went into effect across the region.

Kansas added more than 50,000 new claims for the weeks ending March 28 and April 4.

While layoffs have slowed during the last six weeks and some employees are returning to work as businesses reopen, Kansas still averaged nearly 22,000 new unemployment claims during that span.

Meanwhile, the average weekly benefit amount Kansas has paid to unemployed residents has dropped from a high of $356.81 for the week ending April 25 to only $336.72 last week, a more than 5.6 percent decrease.

Unemployed Kansans were receiving $375.89 on average from the state during the same time period in 2019.

If there is a glimmer of good news, it’s that Kansas finally ramped up distribution of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Program payments this month.

Kansas has redistributed nearly $388.7 million in $600 weekly unemployment benefits provided through the CARES Act during the last three weeks, including nearly $189 million last week alone.

The CARES Act went into effect in late March.

So far in 2020, the state has spent more than $256 million on unemployment benefits. Kansas only spent $132.8 million on unemployment benefits for the entire year in 2019.

The Kansas Department of Labor, which has been overwhelmed with claims and blamed an antiquated computer system for processing delays, is able to process roughly 117,000 continuing claims per week, according to Department of Labor estimates.

Kansas is asking for residents to follow a gating plan for claim filing based on last name to help reduce strain on the state’s unemployment system.

People whose last names begin with letters A through G are asked to file on Sundays, H through M should file on Mondays, N through S on Tuesdays and T through Z on Wednesdays with Thursday through Saturday available for anyone who missed their filing day earlier in the week.

Kansas only began accepting claims for self-employed workers, independent workers and “gig” workers last week.

While some may not be eligible for state benefits, they should receive money from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Payments are expected to begin being dispersed to those workers next week.