Gov. Kelly on KDOL: ‘I’m doing everything in my power to fix things now’
TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) - As unemployed Kansans continue their struggle to receive payments from the Kansas Department of Labor, Gov. Laura Kelly said on Monday that she hears their concerns. She also said the root of the problem started long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor said in 2009, $50 million was approved to modernize the IT system, but she said the funding was stopped in 2011 under the Brownback/Colyer Administration.
The governor said pre-pandemic, unemployment was at an all-time low and the agency’s top priority was to modernize its 44-year-old IT system. Then, “when covid hit. it wreaked havoc with our health and with our economy.”
The KDOL was forced to shift its focus from fixing the system to responding to what people needed.
“We needed to respond, process and deliver thousands of claims and answer hundreds of thousands of calls every single day,” said Gov. Kelly.
The governor said the ever-changing federal unemployment programs were also a factor. Prior to March, KDOL was responsible for working with one program, the state unemployment program. To respond to COVID, the federal government created another three. Kelly said it was difficult to handle and overwhelmed the IT system because it still uses antiquated coding language.
“Aligning our system with every new federal program that came down was sort of like translating hieroglyphics into English and then we had to do it three different times,” she said.
The governor said on top of an outdated and antiquated system, Kansas lawmakers stopped a proposal of a punitive fraud law in May.
“That’s what we’re up against. A once in a century crisis, curveballs from our federal partners instead of coordination and help, stone age computer technology and lawmakers in spite of everything Kansans have gone through want to further limit our ability to help people,” she said.
Gov. Kelly said Kansas joins 30 other states with outdated systems that have slowed responses and left people vulnerable to fraud. She said unemployment fraud during the pandemic has cost people across the country nearly $360 billion. But, in the last three weeks, the KDOL’s new identity verification system has stopped nearly five million bot attacks or fraudulent attempts to log in to the system.
The governor said KDOL has gone after and acted on short-term fixes. The agency processed four million weekly claims and sent out more than $2.5 billion dollars. It scaled up its call center staff of 20 to 450 and is in the process of hiring another 100 temporary staff to assist more people.
Last week, KDOL paid out benefits from PEUC to nearly 5,000 claimants. The governor said the PEUC and PUA programs require the most amount of coding and testing in order to implement. She said getting those two programs up and running will cover the vast majority of claimants who have experienced the issues the last few months.
Ultimately, the governor said ensuring timely payments can only come with a new modern system. She said the process isn’t simple and normally requires a multi-year process that the state is working to speed up. She said the state expects to put the system out for bid by summer and begin work by the end of the year.
Gov. Kelly said she sent a letter to the U.S. Congress urging them to include funds in the next stimulus for states to fast-track IT modernization and insolvency relief for the unemployment trust fund.
The governor said her proposed budget includes funds to restart the modernization project which will be fast-tracked. She also urged the Kansas Senate to confirm KDOL Acting Secretary Amber Shultz, an IT expert with 25 years of experience, to fix what is wrong and provide steady leadership to the agency.
“I know the events of this past year have seemed overwhelming, frustrating and downright unfair. I hear you and I’m doing everything in my power to fix things now and ensure never again to Kansans face these obstacles to help.”
Governor Laura Kelly will be joined by Kansas Department of Labor Acting Secretary Amber Shultz at 4 p.m. today, Monday, February 22, to deliver an update on the Kansas Department of Labor.
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