The state unemployment trust fund is being stretched. With some 70,000 residents regularly receiving unemployment benefits, it’s at risk of being depleted next year.
GOP legislative leaders recently proposed using a portion of the state’s federal CARES Act money to bolster the fund. Gov. Laura Kelly shot down the idea, saying that low-interest loans from the government were a better option to cover any gaps that might emerge.
We understand the appeal of turning to CARES Act dollars right now. But Kelly’s decision was the right one.
Federal assistance for rebuilding from the coronavirus should go to towns and cities across the state, helping families and small businesses. That’s what it’s meant to do, and that’s what it should do. Look around your community, look around your region. Do you see pressing needs exposed by the toll of the pandemic? We would expect that most everyone in the state of Kansas answers "yes" to that question.
Some lawmakers seemed to suggest that cities couldn’t spend enough of the CARES Act money by the end of the year. For officials who have so often espoused the virtues of local control, that’s laughable. Conservatives love to talk about flexibility and ability to innovate. They should use this money to allow municipalities to do just that.
Turning to low-interest loans to replenish the trust fund, if necessary, will need to be handled with caution. Lawmakers sounded the alarm about businesses, which pay taxes to support the fund, being called upon to ultimately fund the difference.
That’s a reasonable concern. But these are, as the cliche goes, unprecedented times.
We may believe that we are through with the pandemic, but the pandemic is not through with us. Even if effective vaccines are deployed at the beginning of next year, as seems increasingly likely, it will take much of 2021 for society and commerce to return to a vague semblance of normal. The economic aftershocks could well continue for years.
Navigating these times isn’t about how we spend a single batch of money, or how we handle a single trust fund. It’s about making prudent, long-term decisions for the best interests of the most Kansans possible.
That’s what the governor is doing, and she should be commended for it.