WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – When you have nothing but time on your hands, you would think your day is anything but stressful. But for Josh Tyrell, he spends the majority of his day trying to contact the Kansas Department of Labor to find out when he’s going to receive his Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
It is a problem thousands of Kansans are facing. Tyrell tries to log onto the KDOL website on his phone.
“It’s hit or miss,” he said. “It never likes it when I try to log in.”
Tyrell is an unemployed handyman, painter, and laborer who lost his job during the pandemic. He still hasn’t received any money from the state of Kansas.
“It sent a text message verifying it was me, then I had a phone call to verify the account again,” he said.
Tyrell says he starts calling KDOL just before 8:00 a.m. and will try throughout the day until the early evening. Like many Kansans, he cannot get through.
The messages he gets on his account are not promising.
“Approved, but suspended.”
“Payments temporarily suspended.”
“I had to create a PIN and create another password,” Tyrell said.
Then he says the message he got was that the system had expired.
Besides technological barriers, Tyrell was surprised at how much he had to send the state to prove who he is.
“They told me I got everything taken care of, that my account did have a ‘fraud alert’ on it or something,” he said. “I sent an email on it with my ID, my Social (Security number), and everything, and they said it would be OK in about three to four days.”
What he’s describing apparently happened months ago. Fast forward to this month, and he still is waiting for money from the state.
“No matter what little option I choose from on that line, it always gives me the same message,” Tyrell said, stressing the state thinks his account is fraudulent.
“Outside of giving them some DNA, and all of that other jazz, I don’t know, because they can’t even tell me how or what is fraudulent about it,” he said.
We contacted KDOL and spoke to Peter Brady, the deputy commissioner.
“The people we’ve spoken to were given a promise by the state that they would get the money at a certain date and, many of those times, they’re just empty promises. What do you tell them?” we asked.
“That’s exactly why we’re adding all those resources to our contact center,” Brady said.
He stressed how the state is trying to catch up on the backlog of about 12,000 people waiting for PUA money.
While Brady refused to talk about Tyrell’s case, he said the state added 500 workers to the state’s unemployment call center.
“I hear the frustration, and I absolutely see where they’re coming from and why this situation is so challenging for so many people,” he said. “What I’d say is, we’re going to continue to work through these issues. We’re going to continue to work through any of the backlogs that remain.”
Substituting his cell phone for a pencil and paper, Tyrell shows us how he passes the time while he waits for a job and for a response from KDOL. He draws pictures.
“Keeps me out of trouble, keeps me sane,” he said. “This was for my goddaughter.”
Tyrell is finding solace in the things he can control, his artistic talents. But he continues to wait for his money that’s still out of reach.