TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – Thousands of Kansans are waiting to get their unemployment benefits. For weeks the Kansas Department of Labor has blamed a dilapidated, 40-year-old computer system for the serious issues Kansans have when applying for unemployment.
Labor Secretary Delia Garcia says the department had been taking steps to update the system before the COVID-19 pandemic when unemployment was at a record low. But once the virus hit, that progress had to stop in order to shift focus completely to getting benefits out to people.
Secretary Garcia points to Missouri’s work three years ago to modernize its computer system as a framework for Kansas to follow. She is pleading with lawmakers to allocate the estimated $37-$47 million dollars to overhaul the state’s system.
“As we’ve experienced, unfortunately, with this situation, I think now people understand that we cannot mess around anymore and this cannot be prolonged,” said Garcia.
Kansas lawmakers will return to Topeka on June 3 for a special session, called by Governor Laura Kelly. While any legislative issues could be brought up during the special session, it’s unlikely that this issue will come forward; however, lawmakers seem to agree that it is something to be discussed during next year’s session.
“That will be a priority when we get back,” said Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka. “As we budget moving forward, we’re going to have to put into place a number of things that we probably didn’t think were important before.”
But that doesn’t mean unemployment issues won’t be a major topic of discussion during the special session. Secretary Garcia says the main concern right now is extending the Governor’s emergency orders that make it possible for Kansans to access Federal unemployment funding.
“That’s what this is about. It’s about people, not partisan politics,” said Garcia.
Representative Patton says he is confident that those unemployment issues will be addressed during next week’s session.
“While people are out of work, we need to do what we can to make sure that they can pay their bills and feed their kids and do what’s necessary,” said Patton.
Secretary Garcia says that when the state starts to recover from the pandemic — the Department of Labor will continue the work they started on updating the computer system.