Father Becker Award 2023 Recipient - Phillip Hayes
Father Becker Award 2023 Recipient - Phillip Hayes

The Kansas Society for Human Resource Management (KSSHRM) and Kansas Chamber of Commerce is honored to nominate and recognize Phillip M. Hayes for the UWC Father Becker Award regarding his major contributions to UI research and transformative impact in the state of Kansas.

Phillip Hayes has been THE unemployment insurance (UI) expert in Kansas for nearly two decades, helping with significant restructuring of the UI tax structure, modernization efforts, and integrity solutions adopted by the Kansas Legislature since the late 2000's. As a business owner frustrated with significant SUTA tax fluctuations in the early- to mid-2000’s, Mr. Hayes began researching the various statutes governing Employment Security Law in Kansas and other states.

Through the years leading up to the Great Recession, it became clear to him that all Kansas employers and employees could benefit from an updated and modernized unemployment system that focused on predictability, certainty, and stability to meet the changing demands of the evolving employment landscape.

In early 2010, Mr. Hayes established and began chairing the KS SHRM and KS Chamber of Commerce – KS Unemployment Insurance Reform Committee and built a coalition to help influence necessary changes. He shared his findings and engaged with employers, community groups, and business organizations across the state, ultimately generating a tremendous amount of support. His expertise was extremely impactful and influenced several initial reforms adopted in the early 2010’s.

Further fueled by the state’s trust fund insolvency challenges and lingering SUTA tax impact resulting from the Great Recession, his research and analysis continued, leading to the development of software models to simulate a variety of variables and scenarios regarding changes to the Kansas SUTA financing methodology. The following models analyzed and reported on the impact of three primary outcomes to determine sound policy recommendations:

  • KS UI Arrayed vs. Fixed Methodology Comparison Calculator
  • KS Individual Employer Comparison Analyzer
  • KS UI Scenario Planning and Forecasting Simulator

Through his dedication and countless hours of research, Mr. Hayes mined hundreds of thousands of data points, compared similar states, analyzed various thresholds and modeled a UI financing system that would achieve the shared goals of taxation fairness, trust fund solvency, and a predictable taxing model.

Ironically, in 2015 when the financing reforms were pursued, state regulators initially felt Mr. Hayes’ changes carried too much potential risk to fund solvency. However, one year later, a majority of employers experienced lower taxes and the trust fund grew more quickly than expected, exceeding original solvency projections.

Unfortunately, Kansas was one of the worst hit states during the COVID-19 pandemic for UI fraud and abuse. More than 300,000 Kansans had their identities stolen by criminals seeking UI benefits and close to $600M in fraudulent payments were disbursed due to the antiquated computer system.

Mr. Hayes directed legislators and led the efforts to improve and update the system, established the need for a fair and open bidding process, and helped in the vendor selection and establishment of a state UI modernization council to ensure Kansas completes the critical UI IT modernization effort. Even weathering the UI challenges and aftermath resulting from the pandemic, Kansas has since seen its trust fund grow to more than $1.3B, and employers have experienced reductions in their overall tax burden that more fairly reflects their current and historical usage of the trust fund. Over the past seven years, Kansas employers have experienced an average 26% reduction in SUTA contributions since converting from the ARRAYED to the FIXED employer ranking method. Additionally, Kansas employers are projected to see additional saving in 2024.

Over the past 15 years, Mr. Hayes’ expertise and leadership has led to a more stable, sustainable, predictable and equitable unemployment insurance system for all KS employers. Beyond trust fund solvency issues, broad improvements formulated and adopted in Kansas since 2010 have significantly strengthened the integrity of the Kansas unemployment system and offer sound public policy in service to the employer community, claimants and administrators.

The broad UI reforms led by Mr. Hayes have and will continue to ensure UI program integrity, increased labor participation, re-employability, and improved predictability and fairness of the Kansas UI tax code for employers.

Natalie Bright, Executive Director of KSSHRM stated "Mr. Hayes is well recognized in the Kansas State Capitol and is regarded by state legislators as the de facto authority on KS unemployment insurance. As much of the nation continues to debate UI reform, Kansas may serve as a model state regarding what can be accomplished by having a champion lead and balance sound, practical policy with political reality. It’s been quite a journey, and we are fortunate and appreciate having Phil Hayes, aka 'The Godfather of UI in Kansas,' in guiding such efforts for our state."

Doug Holmes, President of UWC, stated “Father Becker was one of the most important developers of the original federal UI legislation through extensive research. He wrote some of the most important early books about UI and is credited as the primary original researcher. I had the honor of meeting Father Becker at a UWC meeting more than 30 years ago when this award was created. Phil’s key research in the development of comprehensive policy and legislation in Kansas is recognized and demonstrates to other states the value of crafting legislation based on sound research.”

About the Award

The Father Becker Award is named for the late Father Joseph Becker, a pioneer and scholar in the development of the Unemployment Insurance system. Father Becker dedicated his life to the pursuit of "work as a scholar for the alleviation of the scourge of unemployment," and spent nearly four decades as a teacher, researcher, writer, and adviser to State and Federal governments after he was ordained a priest in 1939 and received his Economics Doctorate degree in 1949. Father Becker was an authority on unemployment and social economics, as his seven books on the subject testify.

The Father Becker Award is given to an individual who has made major contributions to unemployment insurance research and is presented by the UWC - Strategic Services on Unemployment and Workers' Compensation (UWC).

Past award recipients:

  • 2019 - Joe Vitale (ITSC Director, New Jersey IT Director)
  • 2016 - Dr. James Van Erden
  • 2007 - Ron Wilus (USDOL Supervisor of Actuarial and Financial Services)
  • 2005 - Wayne Vroman (The Urban Institute)

About UWC - Strategic Services on Unemployment & Workers' Compensation

Established in 1933, UWC – Strategic Services on Unemployment & Workers’ Compensation (UWC) is the only broad-based, country-wide association exclusively devoted to representing the interests of the business community on unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation (WC) public policy issues. UWC members are employers of all sizes and industries; national and state business associations; third party administrators; insurance carriers; accounting and law firms; and all who share an interest in maintaining sound, cost-effective UI and WC systems.

UWC is the voice of business on issues affecting UI and WC in Congress, the U.S. Department of Labor and other federal agencies, national forums dealing with UI and WC issues, and the news media. UWC also serves as an information resource for the business community, state government officials, and private sector organizations concerned about the UI and WC programs.