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Kansas implements changes for people to receive unemployment benefits

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas state legislature passed the “My Reemployment Plan.”

It’s aimed at getting out-of-work Kansans back in the workforce.

People receiving benefits for three continuous weeks must submit their résumé through Kansasworks.com.

They also must complete and submit a job search plan form.

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News to Know (06/28/2021)

Surfside, FL- Crews at the site of the Surfside, Florida condo collapse are continuing their efforts to find any survivors who may be buried in the rubble. More bodies were recovered over the weekend. While teams from Israel and Mexico arrived to assist. In 2018 an engineering firm documented more than 9 million dollars in needed repairs to the building. The cause of the collapse is still under investigation.

Pea Ridge, AR- A Northwest Arkansas officer has been killed in the line of duty. A Pea Ridge Police Officer is dead after being run over. Police have confirmed Officer Kevin Apple died while on duty. Rogers PD alerted the Pea Ridge Police Department about a car they had been following.  Around noon Saturday Pea Ridge Officers spotted the car at the White Oak gas station.
once police approached the vehicle, suspects rammed their car into a Pea Ridge Police car, ran over Officer Kevin Apple, then drove away. With the help of serval surrounding departments, police were able to catch the two suspects.

Carthage, MO- Patients were evacuated from Mercy Hospital in Carthage last night. Patients are back in place after smoke was reported in the building. Officials say an air handler motor over heated causing smoke to enter the building near the administration portion of the building. Patients could smell smoke in their side of the building, and mercy officials evacuated the building as a precaution. Officials began allowing patients back into the building just before 9 p.m. and say that no one was hurt during the incident.

Washington, DC- 10 states ended their Enhanced Unemployment benefits over the weekend. That includes some of the 4-States.  Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah stopped the 300 dollar Federal Supplemental benefit. The move impacts about 2.5 million people. 12 other states ended their extra benefits during the last 2 weeks. Enhanced benefits are scheduled to expire in September for any state which hasn’t opted out of them.

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Oklahoma jobless rate drops

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reports a drop in the state’s jobless rate in May even as the numbers of initial unemployment claims and the moving average of initial claims rise.

The OESC reports a May unemployment rate of 4% on Friday, down from 4.3% in April. Initial claims for the week ending June 12 increased by 1,680 to 10,614 and the four-week moving average of initial claims rose by 493 to 10,158. OESC Director Shelley Zumwalt noted the May rate is still higher than the 3.1% reported in February 2020, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Child care services struggle to fill positions as worker shortage continues

JOPLIN, Mo. – “Now enrolling.” That’s what can be seen in big letters on the side of The Learning Tree Pre-school and Childcare in Joplin. It’s also something that owner Terra Smith wishes she could do right now — but she can’t. And it’s not because they’re at max capacity.

“I’ve turned people away because we just don’t have the staff to accommodate more kids right now,” explains Smith.

Smith explains that she’s tried for months to replace three positions that were vacated during the pandemic. Even after posting job openings everywhere that she can think of, she’s still not had any luck.

“This has never happened before. Normally I have so many applications that it’s hard to choose who to hire. Now I can’t get anybody in the door,” says Smith.

To stay within state regulations, she’s had to greatly reduce the number of kids they care for — which also cuts into revenue when they already run on slim margins.

“We can have 72 kids here. Right now we have 24,” says Smith. “We’ve been making it, but you know we’re struggling. We need kids.”

Just a few minutes away at Wee Tots Day Care Center, the situation isn’t quite as bad.

“I finally got someone hired, so she’ll be starting here shortly,” explains Marye Lallemand, owner of Wee Tots Day Care Center.

But the process to find even one person was much more difficult than she would have liked.

“We’d have several applicants, they called and set up an appointment… in one week we had four no shows,” says Lallemand.

She says that the main way they’ve made it is because of the dedication of the staff they do have. They’ve been pulling overtime and more weight any time someone has to be out sick or can’t make it.

“I owe a lot to them. And I appreciate them every day,” says Lallemand.

“It is a struggle and it’s hard, but we keep going cause this is what we want to do and this is what we love to do,” says Smith.

In Kansas, the non-profit Child Care Aware of Eastern Kansas is working hard to help parents caught in the middle.

The agency is the parent resource center for the entire state, meaning they work to help parents find childcare options that will work for them, when they’re having a hard time on their own.

“We have a customized database of licensed childcare programs across the state. We put in all that information the parents provides to us, and generate a customized referral list so that they can make an informed decision,” says Reva Wywandis, Executive Director of Child Care Aware of Eastern Kansas.

You can learn more about Child Care Aware of Eastern Kansas at https://east.ks.childcareaware.org/

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Job center gears up for expected uptick in job seekers

JASPER COUNTY, Mo. – “I’ve been doing workforce for ten, twelve years, and I have not ever seen it like this,” says Pam Regan, One Stop Operator at the Missouri Job Center in Joplin.

There’s more than three thousand job postings in the Joplin Metro area, according to the Missouri Office of Workforce Development.

More than 200 thousand in the state as a whole.

“To help address this labor shortage, I have directed the Missouri Department of Labor to end participation in all federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits,” Missouri Governor Mike Parson said during a press conference on Tuesday.

“Prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t easy getting employees. Once the pandemic hit and all of the different types of unemployment benefits and different pandemic benefits came in, that made it even more difficult to get those people back,” explains Carthage Chamber of Commerce President Mark Elliff. “Part of it was safety, but that has been corrected with vaccines and Covid dropping in Missouri overall. So, you have to look at the areas that might be causing some obstacles.’

The Job Center in Joplin is expecting a surge in job seekers looking to re-enter the workforce. To prepare, the office will be back to normal operations for the first time in 14 months starting May 17th. But, they will be short staffed, and encourage job seekers to continue setting up appointments.

“A little nervous. You know, like I said, we are short staffed and some of the staff members are just coming back into the center on Monday. And so getting acclimated and then having the influx of customers… I just want us to be able to serve those individuals as well as we can,” says Regan.

And at the Carthage Chamber of Commerce their doing something for the first time.

“We are looking at a business expo and job fair in June,” says Elliff.

It’s the first time the chamber has held a job fair in conjunction with the expo, but Elliff says the number of open positions demanded it. There’s more than 200 in the Carthage area, where 7 of Jasper County’s 20 largest employers are.

“The Job markets gonna come back strong. State unemployment right now is 4.2 percent. It’s down to where it was prior. And I think we’ll continue to be that way,” says Elliff. “So I think the outlook is good.”

The main thing Regan says job seekers should do is start the process as soon as they can.

“Get ahead of the process because once that unemployment does end the market will be flooded with job seekers,” says Regan.

The job center has two free certification programs coming up. Warehouse training starts on May 24th, and includes OSHA and forklift certifications. You can learn more here: https://sectorready.org/warehouse/

The center also has Class A CDL training classes coming up. You can learn more about the training here: https://sectorready.org/highway/

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Arkansas to opt out of federal supplemental unemployment program

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson directs the Division of Workforce Services to end the State’s participation in the federal supplemental unemployment assistance after June 26, 2021.

“The programs were implemented to assist  the unemployed during the pandemic when businesses were laying off employees and jobs were scarce,” Governor Hutchinson said. “As we emerge from COVID-19, retail and service companies, restaurants, and industry are attempting to return to prepandemic unemployment levels, but employees are as scarce today as jobs were a year ago. The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this tough time, so it served a good purpose. Now we need Arkansans back on the job so that we can get our economy back to full speed.”

The governors of Montana and South Carolina already have opted out of the federal pandemic unemployment assistance programs.

Governor Hutchinson’s letter to Dr. Charisse Childers, Director of Division of Workforce Services, can be found HERE.

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Chamber of Commerce seeks end to enhanced US jobless aid

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling for Washington to immediately stop paying out-of-work Americans an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits, saying the boost in government aid is giving some recipients less incentive to look for work.

The business group said Friday that the supplemental unemployment benefit, part of the Biden administration’s efforts to support the pandemic-ravaged economy, results in about one in four recipients taking home more in unemployment pay than they earned when they were working.

The statement follows the release of surprisingly weak jobs data for April. On Friday, the Labor Department said U.S. employers added just 266,000 jobs last month, a big drop from March and well below the nearly 1 million jobs economists were expecting, according to FactSet.

“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” said Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer. “We need a comprehensive approach to dealing with our workforce issues and the very real threat unfilled positions poses to our economic recovery from the pandemic.”

U.S. companies have added jobs for four straight months, but some employers complain that they can’t find workers, despite an elevated unemployment rate.

As more people have begun looking for work, more are being counted among the jobless: The unemployment rate ticked up in April to 6.1% from 6% in March.

While some low-income workers may be reluctant to look for work because they are receiving a federal boost in aid, on top of state benefits, other factors may be keeping some Americans from returning to work, including fear of contracting the coronavirus or because they need to care for children who haven’t returned to school.

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Employers having trouble filling open positions

JOPLIN, Mo. – Almost anywhere you drive in Joplin, you’ll more than likely see a “now hiring” sign.

“It’s been a struggle right now finding candidates,” says Carla Hess with Adecco.

Hess explains that Adecco is currently trying to fill more than a hundred open positions within the companies they work with, and most of positions pay between $13 to $17 an hour. But, she’s never seen their office as slow as it is right now.

“The thing that everyone’s kind of fearful about is if a line goes down or a production site goes down, or if they can’t run a certain product because they don’t have a certain amount of people,” explains Hess.

Austen Brown at Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom says they don’t have problems receiving applications from candidates. But, only a small number of people actually show up for interviews — and a small percentage of them show up on their first day after being hired. So the restaurant has been short staffed for more than six months.

“It creates an overall horrible experience for everyone involved. Whether it be a server struggling to get to the tables, or the cooks struggling to get food out of the kitchen. At the end of the day, the guests kind of experience the brunt of that,” explains Brown, Area Director at Taps Management. “And we start losing more folks because they just feel overworked at that point.”

According to the Missouri Office of Workforce Development, there are more than three thousand job openings in the Joplin Metropolitan Area. That number increases to 200 thousand when you look at the entire state of Missouri.

There are several reasons why people may not be applying for jobs, including anxiety surrounding going back to work during the pandemic. But, many at the state and local level are pointing to enhanced unemployment benefits — claiming beneficiaries are choosing to draw unemployment because they make more in benefits than they would if they re-entered the workforce.

The estimated number of unemployed Missourians was 128,920 in March 2021, down by 3,618 from February’s 132,538, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.

“We’ve got 200 thousand job openings in the state of Missouri. So jobs are out there. They may not be the one you want, but the whole point of it is there are jobs out there,” says Missouri Governor Mike Parson. “And we’ve got so much incentives right now for people not to go to work, we’ve gotta start cutting that back from the government level and getting people back in the workforce.”

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$300 million going to Missouri unemployment insurance trust fund

(JEFFERSON CITY, MO) – Today, Governor Mike Parson announced that he has authorized a transfer of $300 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) from the State Treasury into the state’s UI Trust Fund to help keep the Trust Fund balance above the level that would trigger an increase in contribution tax rates for Missouri businesses.

“With over 96 percent of Missouri’s businesses employing 50 or fewer employees, these additional funds will help prevent tax increases for our small businesses and strengthen the UI Trust Fund,” Governor Parson said. “Despite the unprecedented rise in unemployment caused by COVID-19 this past year, our economy continues to come back strong as businesses reopen and Missourians get back to work. We have come a long way since the early days of this pandemic, and an increase in taxes is the last thing Missouri employers need as we continue our recovery.”

Missouri employers wholly fund the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund from which state unemployment benefits are provided to eligible workers who have lost their jobs. With thousands of Missourians unemployed during the pandemic, Missouri businesses would have likely seen an increase in their unemployment taxes to replenish the Trust Fund, without this action.

“Small businesses employ over 45 percent of our workforce here in the state. These funds will provide those employers a better sense of economic security encouraging them to employ or re-employ workers. These efforts are critical to allowing small businesses to reopen, recover, and grow,” Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Anna Hui said. “We continue to look for ways to be fiscally responsible in assisting businesses and individuals in the state in recovering from the pandemic. Today’s action helps businesses by enabling them to employ more workers and create sustainable economic prosperity across Missouri.”

As of February 2021, Missouri’s unemployment rate stands at 4.2 percent, below the national average of 6.2 percent. While February rankings are not yet available, Missouri ranked twelfth lowest in the nation in unemployment in January 2021.

The transfer of CRF funds to the UI Trust Fund accompanies the Public Order that the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations issued last December under the Governor’s Executive Order to prevent increases in unemployment tax rates that are triggered when the average Trust Fund balance dips too low.

This fund transfer will help Missouri not follow the twenty other state who have depleted their UI Trust Funds and are borrowing money to pay unemployment benefits.

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KDOL adding 500 more representatives at call centers

PITTSBURG, Kan. – Talking to an automated chat and making dozens, if not hundreds, of phone calls a day has become an all consuming process for one Pittsburg resident.

In June 2020, Pittsburg resident Janett left her job, feeling that she had no choice but to stay home with her three kids.

“My responsibility as a mother needed to come first,” says Janett. Janett didn’t feel comfortable sharing her last name for publication due to privacy concerns.

She applied for and qualified for unemployment insurance through the Kansas Department of Labor. But after that ran out in January, she started trying to apply for some kind of extended benefits.

But up to this point, she hasn’t even been able to apply.

“I have not been able to get logged in. I have not been able to make contact with anybody that can help,” explains Janett.

Since February 3rd, she’s tried everything she can think of to reach someone at the Department of Labor who can help. That includes calling the department (on the four lines they provide) roughly two thousand times.

“It’s been a tremendous hardship,” says Janett. “I have accounts that, you know… you can only ask for deferment so many times.”

This is the latest in a series of issues Kansans have had with the unemployment system.

In April 2020, we spoke with Parsons resident Janene Godfrey, who at the time had tried to call KDOL more than 800 times for help with a technical problem. Much like Janett is experiencing nearly a year later. You can read more about Godfrey’s experience, and KDOL’s response at the time, here: https://www.koamnewsnow.com/kansas-department-of-labor-changes-unemployment-claim-filing-guidance/

KOAM continues to receive calls every week from residents who are having problems with the Kansas unemployment system.

At the end of January, the unemployment system underwent a massive security overhaul, with the department adding multi-factor authentication in an attempt to prevent fraudulent claims. In February, the department of labor estimated that, in 2020, $290 million was paid out on fraudulent claims. A report from the Republican-controlled Legislature’s nonpartisan auditing division suggested that the figure was closer to $600 million, something the Department of Labor strongly disputes.

Amidst all of this, Republican’s in the state have been pushing to exert more control over upgrades to the state’s unemployment system, with at least one key GOP legislator suggesting stripping Gov. Laura Kelly of her control over the state Department of Labor. Republicans Senator Mike Thompson, have been highly critical of the governor’s handling of the department.

“This is a mess of epic proportions. There are some people in the Department of Labor that have been working very hard to get things fixed…I am not blaming them. In fact, we have worked with people like Peter Brady throughout this episode…he and a few others have been very responsive to us. The fault really lies at the top of the heap, with the lack of foresight.
I don’t know how the Governor could not have seen this coming from day one when she decided to shut the state down for this pandemic. I knew then that we would see massive levels of unemployment and claims. It’s not rocket science…just Econ 101. The longer this goes, the longer it will take to clear up the mess,” Senator Thompson said on Facebook on February 20th.

“It’s extremely irritating that our government there for you when you need them to be,” says Janett.

The Department of Labor has strongly defended their position, many times blaming the situation on antiquated technology that was first launched in the 1970’s. The department says there has been a lot of groundwork put into place to stabilize the system — which has been a big focus over the last several months.

On March 3rd, Governor Kelly announced that 500 more representatives will be hired for the call centers, and be in place by mid-April. Call center hours have also been extended, and the governor says there will be server upgrades done on March 12th and 13th.

Today, Governor Laura Kelly announced that the Kansas Department of Labor is upgrading the agency’s server capacity and…

Posted by Kansas Department of Labor on Wednesday, March 3, 2021

 

A representative with the Department of Labor tells us the server update will help representatives simultaneously look at a claim online and talk to a caller. They also tell us 79 of the new representatives will start on Monday, March 8th, and that a hundred more will start each week until May 3rd.

Janett says adding more representatives is a good idea, but something that should have been done before the system was updated.

“There’s always gonna be IT problems whenever you do something like this. They screwed the entire state of Kansas. Fix this. Fix this.”

 

Related stories: https://www.koamnewsnow.com/kansans-struggle-to-get-unemployment-insurance-and-pandemic-assistance/