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Kansas woman plans series of unemployment protests at state capitol

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Frustrations continue to rise among some unemployed Kansans, who have gone months without receiving federal unemployment benefits.

Now, an Olathe woman has planned a series of protests, called “Kansans March,” to vent her concerns with the state’s labor department, KDOL.

“Our pleas have been ignored by KDOL officials and the Governor’s office for months,” Cassandra Dickerson, the organizer for the protest, said in a press release Tuesday. “This crisis is a state disaster within a pandemic disaster for Kansans. We deserve full transparency and facts by the Governor.”

The first march is planned to take place at the Kansas State Capitol on Friday.

Dickerson, a mother of three, has struggled to pay bills after going nearly two months without pay.

After hearing from other unemployed Kansans, struggling to make ends meet, she decided to take action.

“Who’s responsible for this? Why does the state of Kansas just get to do this to us, and there’s no discipline? There’s nothing,”​ Dickerson told Kansas’ Capitol Bureau.

While the state’s labor department has said that payments are going out every day, Dickerson said she’s seen more people in her circle that are still waiting for money.

The state’s unemployment office has been juggling a high volume of fraud and an outdated computer system while paying out claims. Recently, the department’s implemented a new security system to combat fraudulent login attempts.

A spokesperson for the state’s unemployment office, Jerry Grasso, said in an email Tuesday that the department has been transparent about the delay in payments, releasing an FAQ on federal benefits in the Continued Assistance Act on Monday.

“With our antiquated technology, we have been transparent that we would not be able to pay the new PEUC and PUA programs until quite possibly the end of February, and in fact, we will begin to pay PEUC out at the end of this week. We’ve put out press releases, updated Facebook, and done many interviews on the programs, the timelines, and the contact center.”

Kansas Department of Labor

Dickerson’s flyer for her planned series of unemployment protests set to take place at the Kansas State Capitol

However, Dickerson said lack of transparency is one of the driving forces behind the protest, along with thousands of Kansans not knowing when they’ll receive their next payment.

“We want to be told the truth but, more importantly, we need our UI payments issued so that we can pay rent and utilities, put food for our table, and meet the basic needs of our families,” she said.

In addition to the protests planned for Friday, February 19, two more are also expected to take place at 10 a.m., at the Kansas State Capitol on February 26 and March 5.

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Missouri: 10.5% of residents have received Covid-19 vaccine

MISSOURI – As of February 16, 10.5% of Missouri’s population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. The state has administered 886,800 vaccine doses – 641,376 people have received one dose and 245,424 people have received a second dose.

So far, a majority of the vaccine doses have gone to older residents. Residents 85 and older have received 34.4% of doses, those 75 to 84 received 22.4%, and those 65 to 74 received 24.8%.

On Sunday, Gov. Mike Parson’s administration announced several mass vaccination sites across the state. The sites were scheduled to be operating February 15-19.

But on Monday, Parson announced that the mass vaccination events in partnership with the Missouri National Guard, Department of Health and Senior Services and State Emergency Management Agency were being canceled due to extreme winter weather.

Missouri is currently vaccinating residents in Phase 1A, Phase 1B – Tier 1 and Phase 1B – Tier 2.

If no changes take place, the general public will have access to the vaccine in Phase 3. The exact timeline is a work in progress and will be determined as phases are completed.

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Historical Olivia Apartments to see redevelopment

The historical Olivia Apartments passed for redevelopment at Joplin City Council Tuesday night. Bykota REI LLC, a Colorado Limited Liability Company, was approved for $250,000 for the redevelopment of the Olivia Apartments located in Joplin on an emergency basis with eight in favor and one opposed.

Bykota REI LLC is the parent company based in Colorado of brothers Sawyer and Sullivan Smith’s subsidiary Blue Haven Homes based in Joplin. The two brothers plan to put a $6.5 million investment into redeveloping the Olivia into new apartments for the Joplin community. Sawyer said the project acts as a bridge between downtown and the Murphysburg District.

“I certainly hope the community will celebrate this award, this contract, this development proposal,” said Nick Edwards, Joplin city manager. “It is investment that is flowing into the community that otherwise probably wouldn’t have happened. In fact, it probably would’ve resulted in a net decrease with a loss of space, so this is a good thing for the city of Joplin. We certainly hope and wish the developers all the success possible and hope this will be one of many projects they can do. We do have to be mindful of the expenditures and the requests and the incentives that we’re giving, that is not something that is done easily and we have to pay close attention to that.”

Following a fire in December 2020, which damaged the Olivia Apartments and destroyed the roof, Bykota agreed to reconstruct the roof by June 15, 2021. Sawyer stated their estimated date of completion for the redeveloped Olivia apartments is March 1, 2023.

Council also passed a resolution allowing the Joplin Police Department to apply for three grants through the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Highway Safety Program to go toward further efforts in reducing crashes, such as DWI’s.

Two additional bills passed as emergency ordinances, both with a unanimous vote. A bill under first reading also passed with nine in favor to move on to second and third reading. Council also approved, with nine in favor, the Parks and Stormwater’s citizens committee

Lori Haun, Downtown Joplin Alliance executive director, presented the Downtown Joplin quarterly report. In her presentation she six topics: looking back, Endangered Properties Program, going on now, Empire Market, upcoming events and activities, and looking to the future. Haun pointed out that one of their big achievements in 2020 was the Endangered Properties Program, in which their main focus was the Olivia building. The creation of the Empire Market in 2018 was another achievement, which Haun said is still growing, including available community gardens. They also furthered downtown branding with new banners and were awarded “Best Creative Placemaking Project” for a mural completed in 2019 on 6th and Virginia tilted “& at Night, We Glow.”

Haun also discussed in upcoming events for Joplin that this includes bringing Third Thursday back. The next Third Thursday is tentatively scheduled for April 15, 2021. The event will follow local guidelines and those from the CDC. There will be a limited number of venders present, with extra spacing available. Additionally, she said there are several smaller projects and expected development to come in the future, with goal of creating a vibrant downtown for Joplin.

Ryan Talken, Joplin Health Department director, provided an update regarding COVID-19 in Joplin. Talken said the COVID-19 numbers in the cities are “encouraging,” as they are improving. He said that now the city has on average 7.43 cases per day, compared to just after the winter holidays when the city had on average 43 cases per day. Currently, there has 36 people in isolation, nine of whom are Joplin residents, and the city has a total of 50 active cases.

Regarding COVID-19 vaccines, Talken said 10.5 percent of Missouri’s population has received the vaccine—which he said is a good amount so far. He presented that 10 percent of Jasper County has received the COVID-19 vaccine and 4.4 percent of Newton County has received it. A community vaccine clinic for those who received their first dose of the vaccine at the previous clinic was canceled due to weather. Talken said this clinic will be rescheduled in the next week or so. He said those who received their first dose already should not worry about their second dose being postponed, that there is no concern. Talken said they are also working on creating vaccine phone banks for those who have no internet. Hospitals are still getting the bulk of the vaccines, but according to Talken stores like Walmart are starting to receive the vaccine—and some already have.

As Joplin is currently in Phase 2 Step 4 of the reopening plan, there is a 250 limit on indoor and outdoor mass gatherings. Talken said that going forward, he recommends removing the outdoor mass gathering limits but keeping all other precautions.

Lynn Onstot, Joplin public information officer, presented that the Joplin Fire Department has launched a community survey that the public is invited to submit. The survey’s deadline is Friday, February 19. There will be a community COVID-19 testing site at Access Family Care February 19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Individuals must be a Missouri resident to attend. Additionally, Republic Services is asking Joplin residents to put their trash on their curbs, as they are working to catch up on their services from the past week.

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Joplin to move forward with plan to renovate Oliva Apartments

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin City Council is moving forward with a plan to renovate the former Olivia Apartments.

The building was heavily damaged when a fire broke out in December 2020. Tuesday council passed an agreement with Bykota REI LLC, who plans to transform the building into a 38 unit apartment building. The city of Joplin is helping with the development by matching dollar-for-dollar up to $250,000 for the upgrade. Joplin’s City Manager says the project will benefit the city by encouraging more people to live in town.

Nick Edwards, City Manager, said, “Anything that attracts investment to downtown Joplin or even Joplin as a whole is a positive. When we have developers that are bringing money and investing those into new projects that’s a sign of growth instead of decline so that’s really encouraging.”

The investment company plans on installing a roof by June 15 and hopes to finish the entire project by March first 2023.

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HVAC Contractors a welcome sight during frigid temperatures

JASPER COUNTY, Mo. — Just a few hours without heat can lead to a potentially dangerous situation inside a home this time of year.

“Boy am I glad to see you.”

That’s the welcome HVAC technicians like John Hambleton receive when he gets to a home like this one in Jasper County.

The Franklin Tech graduate diagnosed the problem in this case was mother nature herself, ice accumulated on the fan blade hampering it from spinning correctly.

John Hambleton, Lyerla Heating & Air, said, “We’ve been getting a lot of calls, several, kind of lose count after a while, just trying to help as many people as we can right now, it’s probably about my 7th call of the day so, we’re out trying to help as many people as we can right now.”

This is one of 300 service calls the company has received in just the first two days of this week.

John Hambleton, Lyerla Heating & Air, said, “It’s good to help people, especially in these extreme conditions, pipes freezing up and stuff, bringing someone heat, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

One of the best ways to prevent untimely breakdowns is to get your unit serviced before dangerous temps and wind chills set in. Some companies – like this one – offer a program where technicians will come out before Summer and Winter months to make sure units are in good working order.

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Carterville working hard to restore water service to citizens

CARTERVILLE, Mo. — Carterville is dealing with water issues during this Winter blast.

Carterville residents have been without water since last night. Public works has beeing working on the issues for more than 24 hours and are starting to see progress.

Clifford Blanchard, Homeowner, said, “Its crazy cold to have all this problem. Its just unreal.”

More than 1,000 carterville residents have been without running water since 5 p.m. Monday night. Yesterday, the city tried pumping water from Webb City’s water source — but it stopped working — leaving some residents to find their own solution.

“We thought the water was froze and that’s when we went and got water some bottled water so when we came back from Walmart it was back on so now we just got a bunch of extra water so that just made us more prepared for this morning.”

Public works say they noticed the water tower was losing water on Monday and Tuesday they found a leak at Pine and Main Street. Tuesday afternoon crews dug up a pipe — patched the leak and covered it back up to try to pressure up the system to get water flowing to customers.

Carze Brown, Public Works Laborer, said, “Please be gentle I’m sorry we are working as hard as we can to fix this situation, just bear with us.”

He says the city’s submersible pump is broken and they will replace it Friday or next Monday. In the meantime they are pumping water from Webb City – to fill up the water tower to supply Carterville customers. Public Works says water will be restored tonight or early tomorrow. Carterville is now under a boil order until the water is tested and considered safe.

“Boil your water then you can drink it.”

He says residents are in danger of their pipes freezing because they have been without water for so long. He is asking everyone to make sure to open your cabinets to let warm air surround the pipes. The city will be giving out free bottles of water to residents Wednesday.

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Water main break interrupts service in Parsons

PARSONS, Ks. — Meanwhile, water is beginning to flow as it should again in Parsons, Kansas. This – after a leak recently erupted on the city’s main line.

Don Alexander, Parsons Business Owner, said, “We’ve never had this on a city wide scale.”

Pipes freezing during extreme cold temperatures is nothing new. And that’s exactly what happened in Parsons.

Jim Zaleski, Parsons Economic Development Director, said, “We noticed a drop in water pressure and began to search for any kind of a small main break.”

But it wasn’t small.

“Water that would normally circle through the former plant was now leaking into the basement and a severe rate in the bottom of the plant, enough to drop pressure to be noticed on our monitors.”

Thanks to the continued hard work of city employees however, the valves to section off the leak were shut, and pressure began to build again.

“At six p.m. on Monday, we reached 103 feet of water in our water towers, this morning we were at 115 feet, this should restore full pressure to the entire city.”

And as the water returns, people may start to notice a noise as they turn on their faucets.

“You will see varying pressures as the air is leached out of the system, when residents turn on their water, it might pop as the air is leached out of the system.”

It shouldn’t be anything to be scared of. But just as an added safety precaution to the change in pressure, the city is offering one piece of advice.

“If the pressure drops below a certain point, then you could potentially have back flow, which could put bacteria into the water, that never happened here, but because the absence of water within the system and the air in the system, the city has asked for a voluntary boil for any food preparation water or any water you’re going to drink.”

This shouldn’t be for more than 24 hours though, and with only a couple of tests left, soon the water in Parsons will be back to normal.

“God bless those guys because they had a tough job, so I’m glad they stuck it out,” said Alexander.

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PSU offering high schoolers prizes/scholarships at virtual open house

PITTSBURG, Kan. – High school students have the chance to win prizes and scholarships at Pittsburg State University’s Virtual College of Technology Open House and Career Expo.

The event scheduled from Feb. 23 – Mar. 10, will offer participants the chance to win prizes and scholarships while investigating careers.

Pre-pandemic, the in-person version of the open house and career expo typically attracted several hundred students who got the chance to tour the Kansas Technology Center, where they investigated technology degree options and career fields, viewed demonstrations, and even tried out equipment themselves.

“When we held a virtual version of the event last November, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” said event coordinator John Iley. “We wound up with 30 schools in six states and about 600 registrants, and the event turned out to be a real success.”

For Spring 2021, the interactive Zoom session will be replaced with a new wrap-up activity to recognize outstanding performances, award door prizes, and introduce students to next steps in pursuing careers in technology.

“In some ways, a virtual event has advantages: it allows participants to really dive in with greater focus, it can be very individualized, and schools anywhere in the U.S. can attend,” Iley said.

College of Technology Dean Bob Frisbee said it will become a permanent part of the open house and career expo.

“In the future, we hope to again host the face-to-face open house, but we will continue to provide the virtual version for those that can’t physically attend — it will be a hybrid event,” he said.

Registration is now open at www.pittstate.edu/ktcopenhouse. On March 12, the COT will post a video announcing the winners of prizes and scholarships.  

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Joplin Council approves investment toward fire damaged Olivia Building

JOPLIN, Mo. – The Joplin City Council approved a $250,000 investment for a rehab of the historic Olivia Building.

The city is giving the money to a developer called Bykota R.E.I out of Colorado. The city will hold a lien against the Olivia that they’ll release when the project is finished, which the city says it must be by March 2023. The fire-damaged roof has to be repaired before June of this year.

The Olivia was damaged by fire in December. Many community members and leaders are emotionally invested in seeing it revived.

“This is a good thing for the city of Joplin,” said Joplin City Manager Nick Edwards. “We certainly hope and wish the developers all the success possible. And hope that this will be one of many projects that they can do.”

The developer expects construction to total around $6.5 million.

Previous articles:

City provides Olivia building update following fire

Original photographs of historic Olivia building arrived in Joplin just weeks before fire