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Friday
June 05th, 2020

apply for pua benefits graphicELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

State agencies throughout the U.S. are scrambling to launch assistance programs to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and recently, the Kansas Dept. of Labor (KDOL) launched a new program to help those who have been forced into unemployment due to the pandemic. 

“Our Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program is a broad program that expands access to unemployment benefits in addition to what state unemployment and federal unemployment pay,” KDOL Secretary Delia Garcia explained. “Individuals who qualify for this include those who are self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers for companies like Lyft and Uber, and employees of religious organizations whose employment has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and also those lack sufficient work history to file a claim but who would qualify for state benefits. As of May 12, we have been accepting applications from people for PUA benefits, and people can apply at pua.getkansasbenefits.gov, and the program will go through the end of the year.”

The program was launched just last week, and Garcia said there has been a lot of work put into launching PUA. 

“Congress passed their part at the end of March, so in April we were waiting on federal guidance and started getting that around mid-April – and we're still getting federal guidance even today with all of this. So technically the initial conversation started with that at the end of March,” Garcia said. “As we speak, the pay lines for this program are being tested and next Tuesday, May 26, is the target date for when people will receive their first payment. This is a brand new program, which we're trying to work on with a very antiquated system from the 1970s, so we've had a few slight hiccups, which is why we're testing now, so we can make sure everything is actually going the way it needs to and everything runs smoothly. We've been getting several questions from people about when everything will be getting to them, but we are working very hard to make sure we're uploading everything properly so we can make sure everyone gets their benefits. With this program, we also didn't really get any formal guidance from the federal government about how to make this work until after the fact, so we're learning everything and getting guidance from our federal counterpart and rolling with the punches. We know people who are eligible for PUA have been waiting for a long time to get their benefits, so we want to make sure everything is running smoothly so people can get their payments as soon as possible.”

Upon the conclusion of those initial conversations, Garcia said, her staff got right to work. 

“We almost immediately got in touch with the U.S. Department of Labor about this as far as how to upload names and applications to our system so we could get everything going as quickly as we could, so that was one of the first things we did,” Garcia said. “We've also had to juggle many, many phone calls every day answering questions about this, which took up a good chunk of time from our antiquated resources and limited staff in the office. We're also working with other I.T. experts and people in that field and like I said earlier, rolling with the punches as everything happens. We're still getting guidance from the federal government and we're keeping our ear to the ground as far as any updates and things like that, so this is definitely a busy time for us with this program.”

Among all of that work, Garcia added, is getting the word out about the program’s availability. 

“We've been partnering with various media throughout the state, we've been putting updates on our social media, and we've been putting a lot of other information on the state Web site itself for people to see along with the actual PUA site,” Garcia said. “We're wanting to use every mechanism we can to get the word out about this so people can receive the benefits they need during this time, and we know there will also be a lot of word of mouth, so we're working very hard to get the word out. Something for people to keep in mind when they're applying is be sure you put in all your information correctly – there have already been multiple times with this system where it wasn't able to be processed because the applicant put in a wrong digit with their phone number or social security number, or maybe they messed up their address or zip code, so be sure to check multiple times that everything is right so everything runs properly and your benefits can get to you.”

There are many benefits to the program, Garcia said, and she and her staff are proud to have the program available during a time when so much is up in the air. 

“This is a program that is going to help a lot of people in general. We've been hearing a lot particularly from hairdressers and individuals in those industries who are self-employed, this is exciting for them because they will be able to support themselves until they can open their shops again,” Garcia said. “So being able to serve more Kansans is a really big deal and we're happy to do that. This is a brand new program and we want to help everyone who qualifies, and we want to also be sure we'll be able to help Kansans if a second wave happens to hit later this year, so we'll definitely be ready to request an extension for the program if it's needed. We feel it's very important for something like this to be available for people, because we know people want to stay healthy so they can work, and we know a lot of people can't work right now because of the pandemic, so we want to make sure they know this program is here to help them through this time until they go back to work. There are also a couple other parts of the state Web site where they can get more information about this to see if it would work for them and their situation. We want to support people who are unable to work right now as much as we can and in every way we can.”

With the program being so new, there are no real expectations of it yet, but Garcia said she hopes many Kansans will be able to benefit. 

“As of Friday, we had more than 21,000 applicants, so we know the need is there for this during this time. The federal pandemic unemployment payments, which is $600 per week, we've seen more than $188 million paid out, and with the trust fund the money is coming out of here in Kansas, that's roughly $925 million in there,” Garcia said. “So it's important to know the money going out the door through this program is going to people who need it so we can support our fellow Kansans during this weird time. People can do more of their own research into this program online and get some more specifics if they need them. We know it's been frustrating for Kansans, we've had our phone lines clogged with people trying to get their benefits set up, and we'll continue posting important information for people as much as we can about this.”

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