About 7,000 Kansans haven't completed requirements, 400 refuse jobs months into new unemployment restrictions

Jason Tidd
Topeka Capital-Journal
About 7,000 Kansans haven't completed requirements through the state's My Reemployment Plan program. About 400 have refused jobs.

About 7,000 people haven't completed new state mandates to receive unemployment benefits, and a few hundred people have refused job offers, Kansas officials said.

The number of people kicked off unemployment because of the new My Reemployment Plan requirements has remained about the same in the three months since the law went into effect.

Department of Commerce officials told legislators in late July that roughly 7,000 individuals had their unemployment benefits halted when they failed to complete the requirements, which are aimed at helping them find work more quickly.

The Legislature's Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council followed up during a committee meeting Wednesday.

"Hopefully we weeded through the 7,000 people that we had to suspend benefits (to) because of the glitch or the fact that they couldn't all get their resumes to you on time," Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, said when introducing the My Reemployment Plan update. "I'm anxious to hear that we've got all that figured out."

"I'll start with the good news — the good news is it's a beautiful day outside," replied Mike Beene, director of workforce development at the Kansas Department of Commerce.

The My Reemployment Plan program was created by the Legislature through HB 2196 and went into effect June 1. Most claimants are automatically enrolled in the program if they receive three consecutive weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. Participants must create a job search plan and publish a resume.

Failure to complete the program's requirements results in a denial of benefits.

The program was part of a larger effort with HB 2916 to modernize the state's unemployment system. The law passed with unanimous bipartisan support.

Beene told the committee on July 22 that almost 16,000 people had been notified of the My Reemployment Plan requirements. After a compliance check, about 7,000 people were sent disqualification of benefits notices.

About 1,200 people worked with government staffers within the first few days to get back in compliance.

The "sticking points" were primarily around having an active resume. For some, they had built or uploaded a resume but failed to press the button to publish their resume for employers to see, Beene said. Other unemployed workers were still adjusting to government mandates and the reinstatement of job search requirements.

"The activity of a work search requirement is almost a cultural shift for people right now because they have gone so long during the pandemic without that requirement," Beene said in July.

Some were unaware of the changes, though the Labor and Commerce departments have been "pretty aggressive" at notifying people of the requirements, Deputy Labor Secretary Peter Brady said.

More:Federal unemployment benefits, including $300 a week, end Saturday. Here's what to know in Kansas.

Thousands of unemployed Kansans kicked off benefits

Through Tuesday, almost 22,000 people have been notified of their participation in the program. Almost 15,000 have completed the program's requirements, Beene said.

Consequently, there are still about 7,000 people who have failed to meet the new unemployment requirements since My Reemployment Plan went into effect. The driving force behind the incomplete requirements remains unclear.

Some could be claimants who already found work but haven't yet reported it to the government. Additionally, some could have decided "OK I'm done," Beene said, while others are stuck in a pending adjudication process.

Unemployed Kansans can lose benefits if they refuse a job offer. Under the new law, employers can report people to the Labor Department when they turn down a work opportunity.

Through August, a total of 425 job refusals had been reported by employers to the Labor Department. Brady said 354 people were denied benefits when the agency determined they refused suitable work, while 68 were found to have had good cause for turning down the job.

Acceptable reasons for refusing work can be when the job is too far from their home, doesn't fit their skill set or isn't comparable to their previous wages.

The latest Commerce Department numbers show about 2,000 people have found work through the program, though confirmed wage data reporting is delayed, Beene said.

About 88 people out of the 22,000 are participating in a training activity, gaining such skills as electricians, HVAC technicians and dental assistants. Most participants, though, are learning to be commercial truck drivers.

An additional 67 people are taking advantage of supportive services, such as child care and transportation assistance or buying clothing for a new job.

Beene said that "a significantly small percentage," probably less than 10%, of people in the system take advantage of state workforce services.

"We've learned, through a couple data points, you or I could sit in our easy chair or sit in the comfort of our living room and complete the requirements of My Reemployment," he said. "It's those individuals who are actually physically coming into the workforce center — being exposed to the services, hearing the orientation of services, looking at their eligibility for program — are those individuals who are taking advantage of the training or supportive services or job search help at a higher degree."

Economic indicators and smaller workforce

Beene said there are slightly more than 60,000 jobs posted on KansasWorks, which is up from about 50,000 two months ago.

The top sectors for job openings include retail, hospitality, health care, manufacturing, technical services, agriculture and other fields. The largest concentration of available jobs is in metropolitan areas, but there is a steady trend of upward movement in job openings in all counties across state, Beene said.

"So if anybody has doubt that the economy is recovering at a very quick pace, hopefully that will change your mind that the Kansas economy is thriving," Beene said. "And honestly, we are back to pre-pandemic job numbers, as far as job openings, and pre-pandemic unemployment numbers, too. So it's a very tight labor market."

Still, business advocates have complained of difficulty finding workers amid the economic recovery from COVID-19.

Economic indicators do show the unemployment rate has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but not the workforce participation rate. Employment shrunk by about 100,000 jobs when the pandemic hit and still remains about 50,000 jobs lower, a state economist said last week.

More:Kansas economic indicators show rising wages, inflation as unemployment returns to pre-COVID levels

Department of Revenue statistics show the economy is producing more tax revenue than anticipated. The state reported total tax revenues were 22% above the August estimate, bringing in $113.6 million more than expected.

"While these revenue numbers continue to out-pace estimates, we must continue using responsible policies to protect our fiscal health long-term," Gov. Laura Kelly said in a Sept. 2 news release.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran prepares to talk about the state's economic challenges at Washburn University.

Sen. Jerry Moran addresses economic concerns

Sen. Jerry Moran discussed economic issues with reporters following a tour at Washburn University in early September.

He said the state's primary challenges are an inability for businesses to find enough workers, a lack of housing and insufficient child care options for parents. Supply chain issues and rising inflation are also concerns.

"Almost every business that I visit, maybe without exception, the complaint is we can't find people to work," Moran said. "And if we find people to work, they may not have the skill set to do the job. So we need to demonstrate in our state that we still have that work ethic that we are known for. And we need to demonstrate that we have the capabilities — intellectually, and with using your hands — to fill a workforce.

"It is really the circumstance across the country, that if you have a workforce, it's the most determining factor in a business's ability to expand and the ability of a business to decide to locate in our state. So if you want more jobs in Kansas, we need more people who want to work and have the skill set and knowledge to work."

He said the state's educational system "will drive our future economy" while urging people to pursue the American dream.

"We live in a time in which the opportunity exists for people to succeed by hard work and an investment," he said.