Woman ends hunger strike against Kansas Department of Labor, cites threats against family
A Kansas woman said early Tuesday that a message she got from someone threatening to sexually assault her one-year-old daughter prompted her to end the hunger strike she began eight days earlier outside the headquarters in Topeka of the Kansas Department of Labor.
Re’Nae Pherigo, 29, of Wellington, withdrew so she could go home and protect her family, she wrote in a post on the 1,100-member "Unemployment Hunger Strike Supporters" Facebook page she created.
That message appears to have been removed from that page by early Tuesday afternoon.
Pherigo posted a message that afternoon on that page indicating she would continue working to draw attention to all the people waiting to receive unemployment-related benefits from the state.
"I’m back!" she wrote. "Let’s figure this out TOGETHER!"
Pherigo didn't respond to calls and text messages sent to her cell phone Tuesday by The Capital-Journal.
Pherigo's Facebook post early Tuesday morning said she'd received numerous death threats but also met many good people during the hunger strike she held beginning Feb. 22 outside the KDOL office at 401 S.W. Topeka Blvd.
Pherigo, a former emergency medical services professional who lives in Wellington, told The Capital-Journal last week that concerns about exposing her newborn child to COVID-19 prompted her decision not to return to her old job when the pandemic hit.
The move left Pherigo unable to access unemployment benefits, forcing her to pick up shifts as an Uber driver, she said.
Pherigo said she subsequently attempted to file for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which targets self-employed individuals or gig workers, but didn't get unemployment benefits until June from KDOL.
She said problems resurfaced in recent months, and she hadn't been paid since November.
"There have been a few weeks where my husband has gotten consistent payments," Pherigo told The Capital-Journal last week. "Mine have been blocked or chunked together over certain amounts of time. There were two weeks where I got payments on the day that I was supposed to out of the year that we are now into this."
Pherigo said last week that despite chilly weather and numerous negative comments on social media, she began her hunger strike after her appeals continued to fall on deaf ears.
"Our 401(k)s are gone. Our savings accounts are gone," she said. "I am beyond ashamed to admit it but even my children's savings accounts are gone. I've had my oldest daughter's savings account for 10 years and I hadn't even touched it (before now)."