Gene Meyer
TOPEKA, — As Kansans cope with a persistently higher than normal 6.6 percent unemployment rate, the state’s labor department said Tuesday it is abolishing two positions of people whose job it was to help the unemployed find work.
However, the change shouldn’t hurt anyone’s job search, because the services those workers provided will still be available in the same Kansas state offices or online, said Matt Manda, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Labor.
The cuts, which follow an announcement late last week that the department was preparing to lay off as many as 85 state workers mostly in Topeka who helped keep unemployment benefits moving to jobless Kansans, are part of an overall department cutback made necessary by reduced federal funding, Manda said.
The latest cuts include the abolition of jobs previously held by state labor deparment workers in two Kansas Workforce centers run by the Kansas Department of Commerce to help retrain workers for new careers. The Labor Department staff members working in those Overland Park and Wichita centers previously were assigned there to help people file claims for any unemployment benefits for which they were eligible while training.
The centers will remain open and little impact on their operations is expected, Manda said.
Executives at the two centers, which are among about two dozen full and part time similar Commerce Department enterprises in Kansas, only one job in Wichita and none in Overland Park, where the position is vacant, appear to be affected.
But the cuts will be felt, said Angela Lampe, deputy director of the Wichita Workforce Center, which sees an estimated 6,000 jobseekers monthly, “because when the Department of Labor closed its Wichita office and directed people to the call center in Topeka, it made a real difference.”
The reductions of the two Workforce Center positions and the 85 workers being laid off in Wichita are all cutbacks made necessary because past Labor Department leaders were funding those costs with one-time income sources or federal funding that is now drying up, Manda said.
Statewide, Kansas government is cutting about 2,000 jobs due to budget changes broadly proposed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in January and passed by state legislators this spring.
But the great majority of those appear to be open positions that no one was filling anyway because of hiring restrictions the state imposed when state revenue collections began falling precipitously short of expectations in 2008.
Kansas’ single largest state agency, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, for example, loses 550 positions in the new budget, but all of those were unfilled anyway, said department spokesperson Rachel Whitten.
Separately, the department is seeking to cut $1 million of administrative overhead costs which are still being identified and making cuts in cell phone budgets, the department’s bottled water bill and similar economies legislators ordered for all state agencies, she said.
The Kansas Department of Transportation, the state’s second biggest agency, likewise is cutting its workforce by just less than 200 jobs, “but these are unfilled positions,” said spokesman Steve Swartz. “We were told to eliminate them.”