TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – State lawmakers are preparing for a “long” week ahead with the state’s unemployment department, as thousands of Kansans await unemployment benefits.
The state’s commerce, labor, and economic development committee met Monday to discuss matters on a new bill, but the state’s unemployment system came up as a brief talking point. That’s because the committee’s chair warned of a long week ahead in an effort to move the hearing forward.
“In order to expedite things, we’ve got to address this bill today,” said Rep. Sean Tarwater, Republican from Stilwell. “If not, we have unemployment in front of us, and that starts this week. I would imagine that’s going to take at least a week and a half, or two weeks.”
The state has been plagued over the last year with delays in unemployment payments and paying out fraudulent claims. The entire system was shut down over the weekend for some security upgrades.
Now, lawmakers have called back-to-back meetings to try to get to the bottom of unemployment issues, as claimants struggle to get in touch with someone online and over the phone, regarding their claim. The state has repeatedly pointed to an outdated computer system, looking to spend more than $37 million to update it.
Some lawmakers are hoping the new system updates will help them get the money to Kansans sooner. Representative Marty Long, Republican from Ulysses, is the vice-chair of the committee. He said he’ll continue to push for answers as more complaints about the state’s unemployment system file in.
“We’ve been told that those unemployment claims, that the backlog’s been taken care of,” Rep. Long said. “It’s pretty evident that that backlog has not been taken care of. We’re all still getting a lot of calls from constituents about that backlog.”
Long said lawmakers are working toward getting the system updated by 2022. Until then, they’re trying to help as many Kansans as possible get in touch with someone regarding their unemployment claim.
Amber Schultz, who was announced as the department’s new labor secretary on January 29, is currently serving until the Kansas Senate confirms her as the new head of the agency. Long said the committee looks forward to working with Schultz, and that he’s trying to remain optimistic despite the department’s failed track record.
“Our committee looks forward to hearing from her, and her ideas about turning the department of labor around,” Rep. Long said. “I’d like to be optimistic about that process, but that’s hard to do because of past performance.”
The committee is scheduled to meet with the state’s department of labor this week, starting Wednesday.