If Gov. Laura Kelly’s stay-at-home order is not extended, many Kansas businesses may soon be able to reopen — but with the level of emergency unemployment compensation recently increased, it remains unclear whether they will be able to attract all of their former employees back to work.
Including an additional $600 per week being provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Kansas is now one of a majority of states where the average amount being paid out or soon to be paid out in unemployment benefits will be higher than the average wages paid before the millions of layoffs caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The only states that do not fall into this category are Georgia, New Jersey, Hawaii, Colorado, Washington, West Virginia, California, Massachusetts, Alaska, Illinois, New York, and New Hampshire, along with Washington, D.C., according to the New York Times.
“For many workers and employers,” National Public Radio recently reported, the extra $600 in unemployment benefits, which is now reportedly being paid out in Kansas, “is a godsend — a way to keep food on the table while also cutting payroll costs.
“But the extra money can create some awkward situations. Some businesses that want to keep their doors open say it's hard to do so when employees can make more money by staying home.”
At a media conference on Friday, in response to a question from the Morning Sun, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) discussed the issue.
“Kansas is different than New York, that’s an obvious fact, but also places in Kansas are different one from another,” Moran said, adding that decisions about how to reopen businesses should “be done in a very decentralized way, meaning that decisions made closer to home, closer to the facts, utilizing the expertise of local experts, is important.”
Moran said “there has been legitimate concern that there are income earners who would make more on unemployment than they would if they were working. We tried to correct that, a vote was taken to alter that circumstance. The vote to change that $600 was defeated, so it is what’s being done.”
Despite the impact it could have on some recently laid off employees’ decisions about whether to go back to work, Moran said, the money will still be paid out from the federal government.
“But it does create this disincentive for work if your decision about working is based solely upon income or need for income. So it’s a challenge and one that is recognized but has not yet been solved. My hope is that people are anxious for work. Work has — certainly is important to a family for putting food on the table and caring for themselves and others,” Moran said.
“It’s also a moral component or a part of our soul. Work matters to us as who we are and significance in life. And I hope there’s many, many Kansans, I know there are, who will choose work at every opportunity. But (…) particularly at income or wage levels that are toward the low end of the scale, this has a consequence there more dramatically.”