PITTSBURG, Kan. – Talking to an automated chat and making dozens, if not hundreds, of phone calls a day has become an all consuming process for one Pittsburg resident.
In June 2020, Pittsburg resident Janett left her job, feeling that she had no choice but to stay home with her three kids.
“My responsibility as a mother needed to come first,” says Janett. Janett didn’t feel comfortable sharing her last name for publication due to privacy concerns.
She applied for and qualified for unemployment insurance through the Kansas Department of Labor. But after that ran out in January, she started trying to apply for some kind of extended benefits.
But up to this point, she hasn’t even been able to apply.
“I have not been able to get logged in. I have not been able to make contact with anybody that can help,” explains Janett.
Since February 3rd, she’s tried everything she can think of to reach someone at the Department of Labor who can help. That includes calling the department (on the four lines they provide) roughly two thousand times.
“It’s been a tremendous hardship,” says Janett. “I have accounts that, you know… you can only ask for deferment so many times.”
This is the latest in a series of issues Kansans have had with the unemployment system.
In April 2020, we spoke with Parsons resident Janene Godfrey, who at the time had tried to call KDOL more than 800 times for help with a technical problem. Much like Janett is experiencing nearly a year later. You can read more about Godfrey’s experience, and KDOL’s response at the time, here: https://www.koamnewsnow.com/kansas-department-of-labor-changes-unemployment-claim-filing-guidance/
KOAM continues to receive calls every week from residents who are having problems with the Kansas unemployment system.
At the end of January, the unemployment system underwent a massive security overhaul, with the department adding multi-factor authentication in an attempt to prevent fraudulent claims. In February, the department of labor estimated that, in 2020, $290 million was paid out on fraudulent claims. A report from the Republican-controlled Legislature’s nonpartisan auditing division suggested that the figure was closer to $600 million, something the Department of Labor strongly disputes.
Amidst all of this, Republican’s in the state have been pushing to exert more control over upgrades to the state’s unemployment system, with at least one key GOP legislator suggesting stripping Gov. Laura Kelly of her control over the state Department of Labor. Republicans Senator Mike Thompson, have been highly critical of the governor’s handling of the department.
“This is a mess of epic proportions. There are some people in the Department of Labor that have been working very hard to get things fixed…I am not blaming them. In fact, we have worked with people like Peter Brady throughout this episode…he and a few others have been very responsive to us. The fault really lies at the top of the heap, with the lack of foresight.
I don’t know how the Governor could not have seen this coming from day one when she decided to shut the state down for this pandemic. I knew then that we would see massive levels of unemployment and claims. It’s not rocket science…just Econ 101. The longer this goes, the longer it will take to clear up the mess,” Senator Thompson said on Facebook
on February 20th.
“It’s extremely irritating that our government there for you when you need them to be,” says Janett.
The Department of Labor has strongly defended their position, many times blaming the situation on antiquated technology that was first launched in the 1970’s. The department says there has been a lot of groundwork put into place to stabilize the system — which has been a big focus over the last several months.
On March 3rd, Governor Kelly announced that 500 more representatives will be hired for the call centers, and be in place by mid-April. Call center hours have also been extended, and the governor says there will be server upgrades done on March 12th and 13th.
Today, Governor Laura Kelly announced that the Kansas Department of Labor is upgrading the agency’s server capacity and…
Posted by Kansas Department of Labor on Wednesday, March 3, 2021
A representative with the Department of Labor tells us the server update will help representatives simultaneously look at a claim online and talk to a caller. They also tell us 79 of the new representatives will start on Monday, March 8th, and that a hundred more will start each week until May 3rd.
Janett says adding more representatives is a good idea, but something that should have been done before the system was updated.
“There’s always gonna be IT problems whenever you do something like this. They screwed the entire state of Kansas. Fix this. Fix this.”
Related stories: https://www.koamnewsnow.com/kansans-struggle-to-get-unemployment-insurance-and-pandemic-assistance/