What you need to know about getting unemployment in Kansas

The following is an article by Chad Lawhorn, clawhorn@ljworld.com, the Editor of the Lawrence Journal World, published Sunday, March 29. 

 

Perhaps you’ve never been unemployed before. If you are now — or fear you soon will be — you’re about to enter a government world of applications, weekly paperwork and a whole lot of rules. That’s the price for getting an unemployment check from the state of Kansas.

I reached out to the Kansas Department of Labor to try to learn more about the process so that I can pass along some tips for people who are filing for unemployment for the first time.

Here’s one thing I learned: You really don’t have to have a phone growing out of your ear to file for unemployment. Some of you who have tried to do so through the state’s unemployment hotline may disagree. As we’ve reported, wait times have been multiple hours, and one day last week produced more than 200,000 attempted calls to the hotline.

So, Pro Tip No. 1 on filing for unemployment: Use the state’s online portal at getkansasbenefits.gov, if at all possible.

I talked with Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Delía García and her top unemployment staff member, Laurel Klein Searles, on Friday. They both had lots of specific tips to pass along, but García also had one broad message she was spreading as well.

“I just want to thank people for being kind,” she said. “We have a lot of people going through a lot of emotions right now. It is nice to hear a kind voice on the other end of the line. We are going to take care of each other in Kansas.”

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the specific information:

• Where to file?

As noted above, you can do so on the phone, but you probably aren’t going to enjoy the experience. Go to getkansasbenefits.gov, if possible. There are no state offices anymore where you can go and fill out a paper form for unemployment. The website is the best option, if you can get internet access. However, if you are filing for unemployment after having worked in a federal job, you likely are going to have to file by phone.


• When to file?

As soon as you lose your job, file for unemployment insurance. You may have heard things about a one-week waiting period and such, but ignore those for the moment. Just file. One thing the state will not do is backdate your filing. Every day you don’t file is a day you won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits.


• Who is eligible?

At this point, you shouldn’t try to guess whether you are eligible. A lot is changing with the federal stimulus package. I talked with García and Searles just before that bill was approved by Congress, so they too were waiting for final details. But, for example, it has long been the case that business owners and independent contractors haven’t been able to file for unemployment in Kansas. The federal law likely will allow them to file during this time period. That could be big news for some workers like barbers, Uber drivers and others who aren’t technically employees of a company but do regular work for a firm as a contractor.

• What about part-time workers?

ansas isn’t one of those states that automatically says part-time workers aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. It is more complicated than that. State officials are going to look at your work history for the four calendar quarters prior to the quarter in which you lost your job. So, if you lost your job this month, they don’t care how much you worked in March, February or January of this year. Instead, they will look at your work history from October through December of 2019, July through September of 2019, April through June of 2019 and January through March of 2019. Those are the four calendar quarters prior to when you were laid off. You must have worked in at least three of the four calendar quarters to be eligible. In addition, you must have earned a certain amount of money during those three quarters in order to be eligible for benefits. Math is involved here, and I’m not going to go into those calculations because your week already has been bad enough. But it is possible that you could work three quarters and not have earned enough money to qualify for benefits. At this point, however, you should apply and let the state figure out the math.


• How much money can I get?

Kansas has set the maximum amount a worker can get in unemployment benefits at $488 per week. Most people don’t quite get that much. Recently, the average payment has been just under $400 per week. This may change, as one government leader would say, in a way that is HUGE. Or another would say it is “unemployment on steroids.” The recently approved federal stimulus bill adds $600 per week to the total. The maximum you can get in Kansas now will go to $1,088 per week, based on what is known about the bill currently. National media outlets are saying that the $600-a-week increase goes to everybody earning unemployment. The Kansas officials weren’t quite ready to say that officially when I interviewed them. They were still reading the fine print of the bill. But it looks like that is a real possibility.


• How long can I stay on unemployment?

Hopefully you get a job soon, but if you don’t, most people impacted by the COVID-19 downturn probably can stay on for 26 weeks. It used to just be 16 weeks, but state legislators approved a law that bumps it to 26 weeks for people caught up in the COVID-19 downturn. The $600 federal government payment, though, may not last that long. It looks like it lasts for four months.


• Is there a waiting period?

Normally there is a one-week waiting period before you can get benefits. But people impacted by the COVID-19 downturn can have the waiting period waived. However, a technical glitch did cause some people to have to wait recently. But Searles said that if people have filed for unemployment in 2020 and it is determined their job loss was related to COVID-19, the waiting period will go away. Some people who are unemployed for reasons not related to COVID-19 may still have to wait, although they may get paid for that first week after having been on unemployment for three consecutive weeks — but only if they took the time to file for unemployment during that first week. Yes, this is complicated. File right away and let the state figure it out.


• What do I have to do once I get unemployment?

Paperwork. Once on unemployment, you have to fill out a weekly report. Among other things, that report lists any work income you received during the previous week. Receiving work income doesn’t necessarily kick you off unemployment. It just depends on how much you receive. Basically, if you earned less than what you were scheduled to get paid in unemployment, you’ll get paid the difference. If you earn more than what you were scheduled to get paid in unemployment, you won’t get an unemployment payment for that week. How the $600 extra benefit plays into all this math is unclear at the moment.


• What gets me kicked off of unemployment?

The best way to leave unemployment is to find steady work. Once that happens, you leave the program. A bad way to leave the program is to get caught not truthfully reporting income you are receiving while on unemployment. If the state determines you have committed unemployment fraud, you are barred from receiving unemployment benefits for the next five years. A painful way to lose unemployment benefits is to get hurt while on unemployment. Generally, unemployment is only available to those people who are in a position to accept a job if one is offered. If you’ve broken your leg and can’t take a job because of that injury, you would be at risk of losing your unemployment benefits. You might qualify for some other disability benefits, but you might not. So, be careful.


• Do I have to look for work while on unemployment?

Typically, yes. State rules generally require you to submit at least two job applications per week, plus do other activities like attend a job fair. State officials may ask you for evidence that you’ve actually applied for work. However, with COVID-19, this looking-for-work requirement has been temporarily waived. “We know this is not the time for you to be doing in-person interviews,” Searles said.


• What if I didn’t get laid off but rather got “furloughed?”

You will still be eligible for benefits. A furlough means your employer hasn’t fully separated from you. They intend to bring you back once this rough patch is over, and often you get to keep benefits like your insurance plan and paid time off. But you do lose your paycheck. The state will pay you unemployment benefits for the time you’ve lost your paycheck. There are a couple of other things to know here. Since you may have paid time off with your employer, you could take that to cover the time you are not getting a paycheck from the company otherwise. However, taking that paid time off may disqualify you from receiving unemployment during that time period. The state, however, doesn’t force you to take your paid time off. If you want to file for unemployment and keep your paid time off for another time, you can do that.


• What if my employer just reduces my hours?

You could be eligible for unemployment benefits, but your employer is going to need to work with you on this one. The employer could apply for the “shared work program.” If an employer does two things, it can qualify for the shared work program: 1. It reduces the hours of at least 10% of its employees in any department. It doesn’t have to be 10% of the entire company’s workforce. Just any department. 2. The workers’ hours are reduced by at least 20% but not more than 40%. The employer fills out a form, and any worker who has had their hours cut can get a partial unemployment payment. Would they also get the $600 federal payment? Unclear at this moment. What is clear is the state is going to be pretty flexible on this program. Businesses can probably figure out a way to qualify. The state would rather see employers reduce hours of several workers than completely lay off people, it seems.


• What if I got fired instead of laid off?

That is a problem. You probably aren’t going to get unemployment money. The program is for people who lost their job through no fault of their own. You can appeal that your employer had no grounds to fire you, but that is a whole other process.


• How do I get my money?

Either a debit card is sent to you, or a direct deposit is made into your bank account.

 

https://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/town_talk/2020/mar/29/what-you-need-to-know-about-getting-unemployment-payments-from-the-state-of-kansas/

 

Read the COVID-19 Response from the Kansas Department of Labor

 

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Posted: March 30, 2020