TOPEKA — The unemployment reform package unanimously passed by the Kansas Legislature dedicated $500 million to reimburse employers for fraudulent claims, extended the pandemic-inspired, 26-week jobless benefit into September and built momentum for overhaul of a decrepit computer system used to distribute assistance.
The bill sent to Gov. Laura Kelly would reduce the toughest-in-the-nation sanction for unemployment fraud from a five-year eligibility ban to a one-year prohibition for first-time offenders, while retaining the stiffer penalty for repeat offenders. In addition, it increased the number of claimants connected to employment services at the Kansas Department of Commerce and outlined a path for employers to report people on unemployment who refused job offers.
The Legislature created the Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council to usher in change over the next three years in the way Kansas handled unemployment. One of the council’s first tasks would be an audit to reveal what led to hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims in Kansas — a calamity that visited other states as the Congress pushed relief funding with expectations of quickly getting it in hands of out-of-work people.