Kansas to end extended unemployment benefits

December 16, 2011

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas announced Friday it will stop providing extended unemployment benefits to residents in early January as a result of the improving state economy.

State Department of Labor officials said the 13-week, federally funded extended unemployment program would end Jan. 7 because the Kansas unemployment rate has improved enough that the state no longer qualifies for the money.

Residents can still get 26 weeks of regular state unemployment benefits and an additional 47 weeks of federally funded benefits. Those programs aren't affected by Kansas' improving unemployment rate.

The state's latest seasonally adjusted rate will be announced Tuesday. The rate announced last month, for October, was 6.7 percent.

Deputy Labor Secretary Kathie Sparks said 1,565 Kansas households have been receiving the extended benefits.

They were being notified the program was ending so they would have time to plan their finances, Sparks said. They're also being informed about other assistance programs through the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, churches and the Kansas Corporation Commission, including help for paying winter heating bills.

"We want these families to have as much notice about this as possible," Sparks said. "Unfortunately, there's nothing left at the Department of Labor."

Kansas qualified for the program in August 2009 and has had a three-month unemployment average of greater than 6.5 percent ever since.

But the state has started to see job growth and employers have been increasing existing workers' wages, Sparks said, adding that new hires were at a slower rate than state officials would like. The state must be off the extended program for a minimum of 13 weeks before it could be eligible to resume, should the economy weaken, she said. That would be in April when the state traditionally sees an increase in hiring.

"It could happen, but we're not likely to see that happen based on what we are seeing," Sparks said.

The regular state and federal unemployment benefit programs will expire Dec. 31 unless Congress reauthorizes them before the deadline — and that has begun to seem unlikely, Sparks said. If the programs aren't reinstated until January, Congress may make the benefits retroactive and the unemployed would receive back compensation.

"We've been down this road twice before," Sparks said.