KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is promising more upgrades to fix problems at the Kansas Department of Labor. For nearly a year, thousands say technical glitches and overloaded phone systems have made accessing desperately needed unemployment benefits a nightmare.
Bonnie Jo is getting used to sitting at the computer. She logs into the KDOL website, hoping for a miracle.
“You just sit there and hold your breath—is it going to go through?? Am I going to get the number? And this is on top of worrying about how you’re going to pay your rent,” Bonnie said.
The 67-year-old lost her part-time warehouse job right as the pandemic began. She initially accessed unemployment benefits without issue. But the checks quit coming in December.
“I have to have a job. Social Security, I can’t depend on that and never intended to,” Bonnie said.
After website security upgrades, she can login, but is unable to file new weekly claims. A year into the crisis, she is angry KDOL hasn’t resolved all the issues thousands continue facing to get money they are owed.
“I had done everything, done my best and something was wrong and I can’t fix it,” she said.
Kelly insists website upgrades are working well, and stopping a lot of fraud, but she knows some problems persist.
“While it’s welcome news both federal programs are paying out with the extensions enacted in December, ensuring timely payments can only come with a new modern system–one that will allow us to address today’s problems and ensure the next time we have a once in a century crisis, the state is prepared,” Kelly said.
A total overhaul of a system like KDOL’s would typically take 3 to 5 years. New acting KDOL Secretary Amber Shultz is committed to fast-tracking it, by bidding the project this summer and starting a full modernization project this fall.
“The new security upgrades have significantly reduced our burden to catch fraud attempts and as we continue to scale up our staff, we’ll be able to spend less time navigating on those issues and more time getting benefits to Kansans who need them,” Shultz said.
But Bonnie said she and thousands of Kansans need help now and cannot wait months more for a better system to access payments.
“What we have to do now is get money to people. We have to let people know,” she said.
Kelly said she has also written letters to Congress, insisting Kansas is among 30 states with outdated labor systems in desperate need of fixing. She’s asked money be included in the next stimulus package to help pay for KDOL’s upgrades, while also including permanent funding sources so states can be better prepared to handle the next crisis.