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May 09th, 2021

ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The month of April so far has seen a flurry of activity from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s office, with a wide variety of topics being discussed and bills being signed. 

The first of this activity was announced last Tuesday morning regarding in-person learning. As part of her administration’s efforts to get Kansas students back to school, Gov. Kelly signed SB63, and all unified school districts in Kansas will now provide a full-time, in-person attendance option for all students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12.

“Since the pandemic began, my administration has prioritized keeping Kansans healthy, keeping businesses open, and getting kids back into classrooms,” Gov. Kelly noted in a release from the State of Kansas. “Among other efforts, we earmarked vaccines specifically for school staff – and all teachers and staff members who wanted a vaccine have now received at least their first dose. As we maintain quick and efficient vaccine distribution, COVID-19 case numbers in Kansas continue to drop – and our schools have taken steps to safely and responsibly re-introduce in-person learning. Currently, every school in Kansas is already offering an in-person attendance option for students."

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, on and after March 31, for the remainder of school year 2020-2021, every school district in this state shall provide a full-time, in person attendance option for every student enrolled in kindergarten or grades one through 12 in such school district,” SB63 noted. “This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its publication in the Kansas register.”

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Also announced last Tuesday was a plan for the continued modernization of the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) system at the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL). The agency had issued its request for proposal (RFP) for modernizing the aged computer system. 

“When I learned that the previous administration abandoned efforts to modernize the state’s unemployment computer system in 2011, I immediately tasked the agency with reviving its modernization plans,” Gov. Kelly noted in another release from the State of Kansas. “Unfortunately, the pandemic hit, and the antiquated technology was unable to keep up with the record volume of claims. Today, we are taking a major step in fixing our broken system. We will finish what other administrations’ failed to do. Prior to the pandemic, at my direction, KDOL staff traveled to states that had modernized their unemployment systems to learn from them how Kansas could build a system that would more efficiently serve claimants and businesses. In the past year, the agency has dedicated a specialized team to complete and expedite the modernization plan, incorporating the findings and best practices from these states.”

“The RFP process is the next major step in our effort to modernize,” KDOL Secretary Amber Shultz noted in the State of Kansas release. “We plan to expedite this process as much as possible, while taking care to engage the business community, workers, and legislators. Over the past year, we have been able to stabilize our underlying systems which were not equipped to handle the volume of pandemic-related claims or the complexity of the new federal programs. The stabilization efforts worked and will help to speed modernization implementation once a vendor is selected, When Gov. Kelly took office in 2019, one of her top priorities for the Department of Labor was to modernize the agency’s archaic mainframe UI IT system. However, when the state faced record-high unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency was forced to temporarily suspend its modernization efforts in order to focus on stabilizing the decades old system. Today, the system has largely been stabilized and is paying out legitimate claimants in the traditional state unemployment program and new federal benefit programs. Since March 15, 2020, KDOL has paid out more than 4.2 million weekly claims totaling over $2.8 billion between regular unemployment and the federal pandemic programs.”

The Kansas Legislature is considering Gov. Kelly’s $37.5 million budget request to replace KDOL’s aging system. 

“We are on target to modernize this antiquated system,” Gov. Kelly noted in the State of Kansas release. “While we navigate the procurement process, we also need the legislature to fund this critical upgrade. It will not be cheap—fixing a system that has been neglected for 40-plus years never is—but failing to act is not an option. I will continue working with the legislature to get this critical project done. We owe it to the people of Kansas.”

Another major announcement from Gov. Kelly’s office came last Friday concerning grant money being available to Kansas venues affected by COVID-19. Gov. Kelly announced Friday that $16 billion in grants will be administered to shuttered venues through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG) program by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

“Kansas venues are an integral part of our history, our culture, and our communities,” Gov. Kelly noted in a release from the State of Kansas. “I strongly support the SBA’s efforts to aid these important local businesses. These grants will ensure venues emerge from the pandemic with the resources they need, and I encourage all Kansas venues that are eligible to apply for the program.”

The program will be administered by the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance. Eligible applicants may qualify for the SVOG grant equal to 45 percent of their gross earned revenue for 2019, with the maximum amount available for a single grant award of $10 million, the State of Kansas release noted. $2 billion is reserved for eligible applications with up to 50 full-time employees. The program was established by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act, signed into law Dec. 27, 2020.

“Kansas venues were hit especially hard by this pandemic, and this program was established specifically to support them,” Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland noted in the State of Kansas release. “SBA has created a strong lifeline for venues in our state, and I would encourage any business owner who feels this funding could help them to apply. To Kansans with impacted venues - you are not alone. We're here to help.”

Eligible entities must have been in operation by Feb. 29, 2020 and include:

• Live venue operators or promoters

• Theatrical producers

• Live performing arts organization operators

• Relevant museum operators, zoos, and aquariums

• Motion picture theater operators

• Venue must have fixed seating

• Talent representatives

• Owners of eligible business entities

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