Kansas plans improvements for outdated unemployment site, hopefully easing frustrations

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The 1970s, the era of disco and gas lines, was also the same decade the mainframe computer that Kansas relies on for unemployment claims was built.

It was an antiquated system that was still viable – until a pandemic hit and hundreds of thousands of people tried to use it.

People like Jerrica Bills. She’s been trying to file for three weeks.

“I go to file a claim, the system crashes all the time,” said Bills, a young single mother who’s in desperate need of her unemployment check.

For any Kansan trying to log on to the website Tuesday all they most likely saw was that infamous circle of death because the page wouldn’t even open.

RELATED: Kansas Department of Labor to temporarily shutdown website Tuesday to make improvements

What the heck is going on in Kansas?

“So the mainframe system that we are primarily operating off of was created in the 1970s,” Unemployment Director Laura Klein Searles said.

Although the system has received periodic updates, more are obviously needed.

Plans were to take the website down twice on Tuesday to overhaul it and fix the glitches that are preventing people from logging on. Klein Searles said many states are having problems dealings with the onslaught.

RELATED: With overwhelmed website and phones, Kansans trying to get unemployment lose patience

“The majority of states are like Kansas where we are working with these outdated IT systems,” she said.

The Kansas Department of Labor was planning to buy a new $30 million system when the coronavirus hit.

So which state has the best technology to handle unemployment claims? Klein Searles tipped her hat to neighboring Missouri whose system was built in 2016.

“Missouri is one of the full successes across the nation who has implemented a fully modernized system, so kudos to Missouri,” Klein Searles said.

Even Missouri’s much newer system has had problems keeping up with the massive amount of people filing, but its problems pale in comparison to Kansas.

Kansas lawmakers, including Rep. Stephanie Clayton (D-Overland Park), have been fielding phone calls from angry constituents.

“What I’m hoping is that today will be the last real bad day and that we will have some more positive things coming through,” Clayton said.

Meanwhile, people can still file by phone. In fact, that’s what 13,000 people did on Monday.

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