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GOP blames Kelly for delays getting Kansans the unemployment checks they want to end

·3 min read

On Thursday, we learned that state GOP officials want to make some campaign videos starring Kansans who struggled to get all their jobless benefits during the pandemic. Also on Thursday, we learned that Republicans think jobless benefits are for freeloaders and deadbeats.

Sure that’s cynical, but the state’s three GOP House members issued a joint press release, urging Kelly to stop the $300 weekly federal checks that will run out in September. “It is critical that we encourage Kansans to get back to work,” said U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner of the 2nd Congressional District in the state.

The unemployment rate in Kansas, in March, was 3.7%. It seems like most of Kansas is already at work, some risking their health to do so. Perhaps Jake and his pals were on vacation — er, district work period — and didn’t notice.

Maybe, though, like Gov. Mike Parson in Missouri, they want to disguise the real motive for their zeal to punish the poor. As the COVID-19 pandemic nears an end, workers are asking for real wage increases, particularly in low-paying positions.

Many are rethinking careers. Some are still struggling with child care, or sick relatives, or rebounding from the pandemic. That they want to be paid for their work does not make them slackers.

Business owners don’t want to pay higher wages and benefits that would cut into profits or raise prices.

Instead, they want everyone to go back to work with substandard wages and working conditions. It’s that simple, and that obvious. In his press release, Rep. Tracey Mann called it “normal order.”

Problems at Department of Labor are complex

None of this means Kansans should ignore problems in the Department of Labor during the pandemic. We were among the loudest voices criticizing the governor for the lack of responsiveness and transparency in the department. Thousands of claimants spent frustrating months trying to get the checks they had earned.

It was hard to get someone on the phone. The computers crashed. Misery spread.

But we also believe a fair examination of the DOL problem must include a deep inquiry into the Sam Brownback-era budget cuts that left the department largely helpless in the face of the pandemic.

Why did Republicans reduce funding for state technology upgrades? Why, in 2013, did the Legislature make it harder to file for unemployment benefits?

Don’t we know the answer? Most Republicans detest unemployment insurance. They don’t think people who aren’t working should have money for food, or shelter, or a visit to the doctor. They think the unemployed are layabouts.

So it’s beyond hypocritical that those same Republicans are now contemplating commercials with recipients who had trouble getting jobless benefits. If the Kansas GOP had its way, there would be no benefits. Problem solved.

It is critical for policymakers to understand what went wrong at the Kansas labor department, and how to prevent future crises. Lawmakers and Gov. Kelly took a good first step this year by reaching a bipartisan agreement for improvements at DOL.

That work may grind to a halt. Republicans don’t want answers, they want an issue. They also want to take away $300 a week from those who need it. When you see those commercials, keep that in mind.