Kansans’ savings dwindle waiting for state unemployment help more than 2 months later

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Sue Heley is living off of her savings. The travel consultant’s income dried up almost instantly when the pandemic hit.

“By the end of March, I’d spent two months canceling all of my clients’ programs, events through the end of 2020,” Heley said.

Record numbers of people continue filing for unemployment benefits. In Kansas, thousands are still yet to see a dime of that money hit their bank account, despite the state previously promising deposits would start hitting Monday.

Heley is self-employed. Typically, she wouldn’t qualify for unemployment benefits. However, she is eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, under the new federal CARES Act.

Now, the issue is actually getting that money.

“We’ve all been holding our breath, hoping the money is eventually going to show up,” Heley said.

She and hundreds of others have joined a Facebook page for Kansas residents facing unemployment. 

Many of them are fed up with the flawed state unemployment system, which has been badly backlogged by requests for benefits. Several members of that page bombarded FOX4’s inbox for help.

“The state has dropped the ball here on people who need assistance,” Marty Oehmler said.

Oehmler lost his job of 13 years last fall. Unemployment benefits recently ran out. He started gig work, which shut down in mid-March. He’s been dipping into retirement savings ever since.

Frustrated that his application for PUA benefits was getting nowhere, Oehmler called the Kansas Department of Labor 40 times before finally getting through.

“I was then put on hold for over two hours,” Oehmler said.

Oehmler told FOX4 that even a supervisor couldn’t get answers.  

In a memo this week, the Kansas Department of Labor said most PUA benefits should hit bank accounts by Friday, May 29. 

But the DOL also said it is still reviewing “24,000 applications to determine eligibility,” citing concerns of possible fraud.

The Oehmlers said they found that insulting.

“Families are suffering, and for us, it has been a struggle,” Susan Oehmler, Marty’s wife, said.

“Really, the state needs to take a look at the system. It needs to be overhauled in some way, and it needs to happen fast,” Marty Oehmler said.

In a statement, Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Delia Garcia said:

PUA is a broad program that expands access to unemployment, in addition to what state and federal law already pays. PUA includes those who are impacted directly by COVID-19 and traditionally cannot access unemployment such as self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers (such as Uber and Lyft drivers), employees of religious organizations, and those who lack sufficient work history or have been disqualified for state benefits. FPUC is the additional $600 weekly payment added to an eligible claimant’s weekly benefit amount that is available for weeks from March 29, 2020 to July 25, 2020.

“This is good news for Kansas workers and business owners who have been impacted by this pandemic. I look forward to more good news in the very near future as more PUA claims pay out and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) goes live. To date, we have paid out more than $642,010,822 through the different unemployment benefits programs, providing relief for Kansas workers and business owners who are struggling to feed their families, pay their bills and keep their businesses viable during this crisis.”

Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Delia Garcia

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