TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Kansas superior a brand new proposal Friday to place $450 million in COVID-19 reduction funds from the federal authorities into the state’s unemployment program to assist cowl losses from fraudulent claims.
GOP members of the Home commerce committee included the measure in a invoice geared toward overhauling the unemployment system and giving lawmakers more control over an improve of computer systems on the state’s Division of Labor. The committee authorized the invoice on a voice vote, sending it to the complete Home for debate, probably as early as subsequent week.
The Division of Labor’s issues in maintaining with a flood of filings for advantages from jobless employees and combatting bogus ones have emerged as a significant situation since final summer time. GOP lawmakers are frightened that employers, who pay taxes to finance unemployment advantages, will likely be on the hook to cowl fraudulent claims and that the state will likely be pressured to chop elements of its finances if it tries to guard employers.
Republicans within the GOP-controlled Legislature have been more and more vital of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly over the division’s issues. The division estimates that the state paid $290 million in fraudulent unemployment claims final 12 months. However a legislative audit launched Wednesday put the determine at roughly $600 million, and a few Republicans argue that it may very well be increased.
“We have got to search out it someplace,” mentioned commerce committee Chair Sean Tarwater, a Stilwell Republican.
Kelly this week urged congressional leaders to approve one other federal COVID-19 reduction package deal that features funds for states to bolster their unemployment packages.
However her push doesn’t have the backing of the state’s two GOP U.S. senators or the Republicans who maintain three of the state’s 4 seats within the U.S. Home. The 5 lawmakers despatched her a letter Friday, chiding her for what they described as her administration’s insufficient response to numerous issues within the state’s unemployment program.
“It’s not an answer to proceed throwing cash in a course the place the method is the issue,” the Republicans wrote.
The state noticed a spike in unemployment claims in April after Kelly issued a statewide stay-at-home order to manage the unfold of COVID-19. The legislative audit advised that scammers focused a brand new advantages program in the summertime and the common unemployment program on the finish of the 12 months.
Kelly and the state Division of Labor have blamed most of the company’s issues on decades-old pc expertise, and Kelly has included $37.5 million in her proposed finances for upgrades. The legislative audit mentioned scammers used “large-scale id theft” to cheat the unemployment program, and Legal professional Common Derek Schmidt mentioned in an interview this week that scammers seem like largely “offshore.”
Some Democrats had been cautious of the GOP proposal to put aside COVID-19 funds, frightened that it may divert cash from different reduction efforts. Tarwater predicted that Congress would offer loads of cash.
The commerce committee’s high Democrat, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, of Overland Park, requested, “Can we do this with federal cash?”
When Tarwater instructed her, “It would not be right here if we could not,” she replied, “Uuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh, I simply — I’ve acquired some heartburn over this.”
The invoice additionally units up a brand new council to supervise the modernization of the state Division of Labor’s computer systems and requires the company to complete the upgrades by the top of 2022. Tarwater mentioned the purpose is a “long-term repair,” however division officers have instructed the committee that its timeline is just not real looking.
The dialogue of the unemployment laws got here because the state continued to report a decline in new COVID-19 instances. Kansas noticed a mean of 404 new confirmed and possible instances a day for the seven days ending Friday, its lowest rolling seven-day common since mid-August, in response to state Division of Well being and Atmosphere Information.
The well being division added 826 instances since Wednesday to the state’s pandemic whole, bringing it to 293,663 since early March 2020, or one case for each 10 of the state’s 2.9 million residents. Kansas additionally reported one other 11 COVID-19 deaths since Wednesday, bringing the entire to 4,735.
In the meantime, Kansas legislators are contemplating adjustments to the state’s emergency administration legal guidelines following months of Republican criticism of Kelly’s dealing with of the pandemic.
The Home Judiciary Committee plans to vote Monday on a bill that may protect the management that lawmakers granted final 12 months to native officers over mandating masks in addition to limiting companies and public gatherings. It additionally would require the governor to get legislative leaders’ approval earlier than issuing an government order throughout a pandemic.
The Senate Judiciary Committee authorized a measure Thursday that may impose new limits on state and native officers’ energy throughout public well being emergencies. It additionally creates a brand new legislative committee with a broader membership to think about the governor’s government orders prematurely.
Comply with John Hanna on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna
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