Kansas Republicans spent a decade attacking social assistance. Now they are shocked at the results

Kansas Republicans spent a decade attacking social assistance. Now they are shocked at the results
Office of the Governor of Kansas

Republican governors waged a decade-long attack on social services provided to families and those who are needy. The Republican playbook remained the same: setting up guidelines requiring that recipients return to work in set timeframes, that work requirements be built into the programs, and that they heckled those who didn't agree.

In Kansas we can see the results: Grift is at record levels in Republican businesses. Meanwhile, the Republicans were so concerned about how these funds could be misused that they pushed through legislation about how and where the money could be spent—like on cruise ships and casinos. When Republican states focused on how to make sure people couldn't get access to social services, they set themselves up for an outright disaster. When COVID-19 hit, states under Republican leadership that focused on these issues were completely unprepared to reverse course on their strategy and get assistance to the people. Now the results are devastating. The Republican response, in essence, is: 'Let's put forward more ideas about making it difficult for families in need to get help.'

The latest Kansas Republican push is "tie the length of time you can receive unemployment benefits to the statewide unemployment rate." There are of course, major problems with this, as the Kansas Reflector points out:

"Tying unemployment benefits to the unemployment rate is problematic," explains Donna Ginther, a University of Kansas professor who has been giving me (and others) a crash course on economics.

The unemployment rate, Ginther says, is a bad measure of the economy overall.

"When the economy is bad, people get discouraged," she says. "They may want to work but they stop looking. And so the narrowly defined unemployment rate does not capture those discouraged workers."

Why? Because Kansas Republicans are prepared to say that unemployment benefits should be stopped or cut because the state is actually at full employment, according to the state Chamber of Commerce.

Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback reduced the time that you could be on unemployment in the state in 2013, from 26 weeks to 16 weeks. Worse, if you fail to report 1099 or part-time income, even accidentally, you may find yourself banned from receiving any unemployment under any circumstances for five years. So Kansans struggling under COVID-19? Tough. If you're under that penalty, go suffer. And if you take on some work that you aren't turning in while you wait for any help, then boo to you, too.

Oh, wait—why aren't the unemployed in Kansas getting meaningful help right now? In another shot at the services to the unemployed, the former Brownback administration refused to fund system upgrades that made tracking claims and responses easier. Put more simply: He wanted to end unemployment, so he underfunded it to starve it and now the frail entity that is left groans under the weight it's tackling. From KVOE:

During this time, Governor Kelly stated that prior to COVID-19, updating the department's 44-year-old IT system was a major priority. However; that priority had to be shifted at the onset of the pandemic as the state had to "respond, process and deliver" thousands of claims on a daily basis while also trying to answer hundreds of thousands of calls at the same time.

Kelly says both unemployment and staffing within KDOL were at an all-time low at the onset of coronavirus. She added that the state also faced challenges due to "curveballs" that were thrown into the mix at the federal level.

Republicans spent decades working to destroy all means of public assistance. Now, Republicans are screaming about why the system doesn't work. While blaming the Democratic elected official in office may seem convenient, the truth is that Republicans in the statehouse were content with people facing draconian rules that cut off their unemployment and ended their benefits. They just assumed it wouldn't happen in their district. They also assumed it wouldn't happen all at once. So now the blame game happens.

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