MERRIAM, Kan. — There are new signs of progress for thousands of Kansans awaiting unemployment benefits.
The state is still trying to crack down on a massive unemployment fraud problem that’s already cost $140 million, but a lot of people who are legitimately owed money have also been flagged for fraud and the state’s slowly starting to fix that.
Error messages online and clogged phone lines at KDOL still plague many trying to file for unemployment.
“I’ve not been able to get in once. I’ve called maybe 100 times,” Krystel Barber said.
Barber lost her job in October while caring for her sick mother. She got an initial lump sum payment of unemployment benefits in December, but nothing since.
“Now it’s saying that I’m flagged for fraud, which I don’t know how that could’ve happened,” Barber said.
She’s now facing the possibility of losing everything.
“I have an eviction now. I’m trying to get help with the emergency assistance, but they said 4-6 weeks out so, you know if I could get my money, I could pay my rent and wouldn’t have to get any help,” she said.
Barbara Parvin’s been in the same boat. She and her husband have both been out of work since June, and health issues have made it hard to find new jobs. They had received unemployment benefits until January and finally found out they too had been flagged for fraud.
“Apparently they flagged everybody with a prepaid debit card,” Parvin said.
After four months without money coming in, she got a surprise phone call from KDOL’s fraud division.
“When the lady first got off the phone with me, I went into the living room and I cried to my husband, and it was tears of joy,” Parvin said.
As of Wednesday, her account shows payment is processing. KDOL is now sending many claimants prepaid Bank of America cards. Parvin is expecting to finally get money within 10 days but is still waiting for word on her husband’s case.
“There’s a little bit more hope for me,” Parvin said.
Meanwhile, Barber is thankful money is going out but said the state should do more to make sure all those who are rightfully owed benefits can get them.
“I don’t want anyone to be (defrauded). I think they should want to crack down. That’s a lot of money that’s going out that shouldn’t, but like you said, the people that aren’t fraudulent — what about us? That’s what we work for,” Barber said.
KDOL won’t say how many prepaid debit cards it’s issued to those previously flagged for fraud, but the department said the review process is proof its new security systems are working.
Currently, there is still a backlog of some 18,000 unemployment claims the state is working through.