Former Kan. EMT goes on hunger strike outside state labor office

Re'Nae Pherigo, who says she left her job to avoid exposing her newborn to COVID-19, said she will go without food or water until unemployment benefits are paid out

A previous version of this article stated that Re'Nae Pherigo is an EMT. According to Paramedic Joseph House, executive director of the Kansas Board of EMS, Pherigo has not held active EMS certification in Kansas since December 2019, when she was released from Conway Springs Volunteer EMS. House said Pherigo attempted to reinstate her expired certificate in March 2020 in the hopes of volunteering again and was advised of the procedure to do so, but the Board of EMS has not received contact from her since then. 

By Laura French

TOPEKA, Kan. — A former Kansas EMT who says she left her job during the COVID-19 pandemic has begun a hunger strike outside the state Department of Labor office to protest unpaid unemployment benefits. 

Re'Nae Pherigo, 29, said she chose not to return to her job because she did not want to expose her newborn child to COVID-19, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. She said she then began working as an Uber driver, but applied for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program after being unable to pick up enough shifts. 

Pherigo's husband is also unemployed, and the couple, who have three children, have used up all of their savings, according to Pherigo. Since applying for benefits, the couple says they have seen inconsistent payments, and Pherigo said she hasn't been paid anything since November 2020. 

Pherigo decided to strike outside of the Kansas Department of Labor headquarters in Topeka beginning on Monday morning, and said she will refuse food and water until her family's benefits are received, according to The Wichita Eagle. She also said she will not eat until all Kansans who are owed unemployment benefits are paid. 

According to a Facebook page Pherigo set up to bring attention to her protest, she is carrying a bag containing her medical information with a tag on it reading "ATTN EMS: SEE PURPLE FOLDER IN BAG IF UNRESPONSIVE." 

According to WIBW, Pherigo said that if she becomes unconscious and is transported, she will return to the Department of Labor office as soon as she is released and plans to continue until she either dies or her demands are met. Pherigo claims the department owes her and her husband more than $11,000. 

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