PRATT, Kan. (KSNW) — The Kansas Department of Labor estimates 12,000 people are part of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) backlog. KDOL and Governor Laura Kelly said they’re doing everything they can to fix what they call an antiquated information technology (IT) system. Recently, Kelly announced the state will add 500 more customer service representatives to booth the unemployment call centers to tackle the backlog.
While the state tries to solve these problems, a Pratt man is on the verge of losing everything. David Tater says he’s one of the people waiting for his money from the state.
Tater has several animals on his property, including a couple of donkeys and his rescue horse. He calls them his kids.
“These are what put a smile on our face,” Tater said, referring to Duke and Pepe, his donkeys.
His smile goes away as he talks about his experience with KDOL. He plays the automated message he recorded from one of his unsuccessful calls and says this has become his routine. He calls the hotline and tries to talk to a person. But he hasn’t been very successful.
“Thank you for calling the Kansas Department of Labor Unemployment Benefits line,” it says. “The hold queue is full.”
“If somebody is getting through, I don’t know how,” Tater said.
He’s wondering when he’s going to get his nearly $20,000 in PUA.
“‘You’ll get your money next week,'” he said he was told one of the rare times he spoke to KDOL. “That’s been since December 7. That was the first time that I’ve heard from the state since April of last year.”
He lost his home renovation job during the pandemic and sold thousands of dollars worth of tools, tractors for his business, and went through his life savings to pay the bills. Days before our interview, Tater had his only form of transportation repossessed.
“I’ve never been broke in my life,” he said.
While KSN was at their home, Tater got a call from an unknown number. Thinking it might be from the State of Kansas, he answered. It was a debt collector.
“It gets to a point where they’re not willing to work with you anymore,” Tater said. “We keep getting promised everything, and the promise gets ripped out from underneath us, and then the other people that we promised won’t help us out anymore.”
The KDOL says it is aware of the problems.
“We certainly hear the frustrations, understand the frustration,” said Peter Brady, KDOL deputy commissioner. “We have folks working around the clock to implement solutions to get more people paid each day.”
Brady stressed how the state is trying to catch up on the backlog of PUA claims, despite its IT setbacks.
“What do you tell guys like David who’ve had to sell almost everything they own, and they’re on the verge of losing their house, and maybe even more than that?” we asked Brady.
“I can’t speak to a specific or individual claimant, but what I can say is, we hear the frustration, we understand it, we’re frustrated as well, trying to move forward,” he said.
“If you were in their shoes right now, how would you feel?” we asked him.
“I completely understand their frustration, and where they’re coming from,” Brady said.
We asked him what kind of timetable the state could give the thousands who are waiting for an answer.
“I’m hesitant to give a timetable only because I wouldn’t want to put something out that would end up being inaccurate,” Brady said.
But Tater does not stop trying to get through to someone.
“I’ve done every step possible to protect my family, and you guys are the last step right now,” he said.