TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday that the Kansas Department of Labor is making more improvements to its troubled unemployment system.
Kelly said the agency’s server capacity will get a much-needed upgrade this month that will allow it to handle more claims. The Department of Labor has struggled to keep up with the flood of filings from jobless Kansans, while also combatting fraudulent cases, since last summer.
Kelly and the state Department of Labor have blamed many of the agency’s problems on decades-old computer technology, and Kelly has included $37.5 million in her proposed budget for upgrades.
A legislative audit said scammers are using “large-scale identity theft” to cheat the unemployment program, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in an interview that scammers appear to be mostly “offshore.”
The labor department referred more than 50,000 cases of fraud from 2020 to federal investigators and stopped payments on another 500,000 cases. Officials reported about $290 million in fraudulent claims were paid out. The legislative audit estimates it’s more like $600 million.
Meanwhile, many actual Kansas residents have said they haven’t received their unemployment benefits in weeks and even months.
In a statement Wednesday, Kelly said KDOL’s server migration will expand capacity so that customer service representatives can use the software to handle claim data and upload claimant documentation simultaneously.
“The goal in 2020 was to stabilize KDOL’s antiquated technology, while concurrently building out new programs for the federal CARES Act programs. While KDOL had their struggles, they were successful and claimants were paid,” Kelly said.
“In February, the agency added a security solution to stop fraudsters, and now, it is adding more server capacity to be able to better help customer service representatives work with claimants as we move into the 2021 federal extensions.”
KDOL Contact Center
Another frustration for Kansans filing for unemployment is the difficulty of getting ahold of one of those customer service representatives.
Kelly said Wednesday that KDOL will begin hiring more than 500 additional customer service and surge staff, with the goal of having some of them on the phones as early as mid-March. Certain surge staff will also receive more training to handle more complex unemployment benefit cases.
And starting this weekend, KDOL’s contact center will also be open a lot more.
Representatives will now be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 1-5 p.m. on Sundays. Starting March 8, the contact center will also expand its weekday hours from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to help more Kansans.
Kelly said one of the reasons it’s been difficult for regular people to call into the contact center is because of “auto dialers.”
From Feb. 22–27 alone, KDOL averaged about 358,000 calls per day at the contact center. This Monday, just 20 phone numbers called 22,000 times, but because of technical restrictions, none of those auto dialers got through to a representative.
Over the past week, KDOL has received 1.3 million calls from auto dialers, and they’re keeping other people from getting into the phone system.
“We understand the extraordinary frustration claimants are experiencing trying to get through to our customer service representatives, and we are continuing to bring on new staff to address the historic volume of callers,” said Amber Shultz, acting Kansas secretary of labor.
“The problem is auto dialers are not compatible with our system. Instead of speeding up call times for claimants, they clog the lines and prevent others from calling in.”
The contact center’s busiest times are from 8-9 a.m. and 1-2 p.m. Avoid calling during these hours if possible. Its busiest day is typically Monday; its lowest is Friday.