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Several say they didn’t ask to sign KS Chamber letter to Governor over unemployment benefits

Gov. Laura Kelly, D-Kansas, speaks with reporters at the Statehouse, May 13, 2021.
Gov. Laura Kelly, D-Kansas, speaks with reporters at the Statehouse, May 13, 2021.
Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 7:56 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Several organizations say they never asked to be included on a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly, urging her to pull the state out of extra federal unemployment benefits programs.

USD 437 Auburn Washburn was among them. A spokesperson told 13 NEWS they did not sign the letter, and “don’t know how we got included.”

Rep. Jason Probst, R-Hutchinson, said the Greater Wichita YMCA and Hutchinson Public Library reached out to him to say they, too, did not know how they ended up on the letter. KWCH-TV also learned Bethany Village was surprised to see themselves on the list.

The Kansas Chamber led the effort to draft the letter on behalf of a coalition of businesses and organizations. Their letter to Kelly included 181 entities purported to be showing support. The letter asked for Kelly to end the additional federal unemployment benefits for Kansans.

“We believe this additional benefit was an important short-term solution to help individuals who were adversely impacted at the start of the pandemic. However, 13 months later, many employers are finding it nearly impossible to fully staff their business which impacts the supply chain and timely delivery of goods and services,” their letter stated. “We believe other barriers may exist for those reentering the workforce. We would advocate to redirect available federal dollars toward incentivizing return-to-work with a signing bonus program, temporary childcare assistance and training/retraining initiatives for Kansans who might have lost their jobs during the pandemic but have struggled to re-enter the workforce.”

Sherienne Jones-Sontag, Kansas Chamber vice president of communications, said they worked with business organizations including the Kansas chapters of National Federation of Independent Businesses and Society of Human Resource Management, who then circulated it among their members. She said confusion may have stemmed from individual businesses not realizing the Kansas Chamber’s involvement with the effort. For example, Jones-Sontag said she believed it was USD 437′s human resources professional who asked that the district be added to the list.

“I assure you that every employer listed on the letter confirmed with their organization that they wanted to be listed,” Jones-Sontag said in an email to 13 NEWS. “The overwhelming support of the letter and the variety of Kansas employers listed are testaments to the lack of available workers in the state.”

Probst said he is not satisfied with the Kansas Chamber’s response.

“My fear is that the people on the other end of the inquiry didn’t fully understand what this was, or it wasn’t represented properly to them. At the least it seems there was no mechanism to ensure the response was coming from decision makers,” he said.

While a handful of organizations disputed their inclusion on the signature list, several did confirm to 13 NEWS that they signed onto the letter. Key Staffing, Greatlife Golf & Fitness, Midwest Concrete Materials, and the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce all said they support the message.

“The supplemental unemployment benefits, provided in 2020 at the height of an unprecedented crisis, served their purpose at an important time in history. However, with the successful rollout of vaccinations in Shawnee County, and our local economy moving ahead once again, these benefits seem to be inhibiting some from returning to the workforce,” Curtis Sneden, Greater Topeka VP and Topeka Chamber President, told 13 NEWS. “Many employers are now struggling to stay open and fill needed roles as job seekers are in short supply. The time is right to end the supplemental unemployment benefits and get our community back to work. The help wanted signs are out and jobs are waiting.”

Kelly’s office had no further comment on the issue Wednesday, instead standing by comments the Governor made last week. At that time, Kelly said she was reviewing the issue to see if the extra benefits truly are to blame, or if other factors are contributing to the hiring issues. She said her decision would be based on evidence, not politics.

Already, 21 states have announced they’ll be opting out of the additional federal unemployment benefits in the coming months.

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