With some owed thousands, frustrated Kansans march in Topeka demanding unemployment checks

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Protesters marched on the state capital in Topeka again on Friday, demanding action from the Kansas Department of Labor. Thousands say they’ve gone weeks or months without unemployment checks they’re owed. 

Amber Cantrell knows the Kansas Department of Labor hotline number by heart. She calls the state daily trying to find answers about why she’s not gotten unemployment benefits owed. 

“Every day on the hour, from the time they open to the time they close. I try to get online, chat with that virtual person and nothing. I cannot get through. No point at all. It’s always full,” Cantrell said.

After finally getting through KDOL’s new website, her account shows she was sent payments from when she first lost her job in October. But new weekly claims filed show she’s owed at least $7,500.  All of it is money Amber says she’s not seen a dime of. 

“What are they doing? They’re supposed to give us our money. We put in that money. That’s our money. It’d be nice to have that money,” said Cantrell.

The Kansas Department of Labor says it doesn’t have a backlog of regular unemployment insurance claims. But it is still processing more than 12,000 claims for those eligible under federal unemployment assistance programs. 

The call center continues to be bogged down with more than 250,000 calls last week alone.  KDOL says an uptick of people using auto dialing software isn’t helping, adding more than 43,000 calls in a single day from 54 callers. 

“You call and you just want to cry because you can’t get through, you can’t get help. I’ve gone to charities, applied for everything I can. I’ve gone to food pantries because I don’t have any food. I feel like, to be honest, like a failure to my family,” Cantrell said.

Amber owns her home but rents the lot it sits on. She fears once eviction and utility shutoff moratoriums end, she could be out on the streets.

“This is not where I thought I’d be at the age of 40, struggling and about to lose everything.  It’s not much, but it’s mine and I’m fixing to lose it all,” she said.

This week, the Kansas Department of Labor new acting secretary and Governor Laura Kelly pledged an overhaul and full modernization of the state’s unemployment system later this year.

But in the meantime, many Kansans are desperate hoping for more immediate solutions to get their payments. 

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