Kansas man denied unemployment benefits after losing savings, struggling during the pandemic

Local

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) — Some Kansans are still waiting for unemployment payments. After struggling financially during the pandemic, some are finding out for the first time that they’re no longer eligible for benefits.

DJ Henderson from Topeka said it’s unclear where he stands after months of ongoing exchanges with the department, trying to get a confirmation on his status.

Henderson told KSN’s Kansas Capitol Bureau he spent months trying to fill out paperwork the department needed to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, one of the federal unemployment programs.

He says they told him they had the necessary paperwork, then wanted more.

“And, ‘Oh yeah, we got everything.’ Then, it went from ‘We need this now’ to ‘We need this now,'” he said.

Henderson is a single dad who works construction. His life took a major turn when the pandemic hit, and businesses and schools shut down, causing him to stay home to take care of his son. As a result, Henderson had to max out his 401(k), pawn off his possessions and reach out to family and friends for help.

While federal programs have ended, Henderson said he’s been fighting to get access to benefits since last year, getting mixed signals along the way.

“One time this past summer, where they’d sent me an email, I came home, filled it out, and took it to the workforce center,” he said. “Had them fax it over and email it to them. One time, I’d actually talked with an employee that was going to lunch. She took my letter, and I told her the same story, and she goes, ‘I don’t see why you wouldn’t be approved or why you haven’t been approved yet,’ and so that gave me hope.”

Henderson received a Bank of America card after being told that he was approved and eligible for benefits during one conversation.

“They said, ‘Yeah, you’ve been approved,'” he said. “And they sent me a Bank of America card.”

The card is usually used to receive payments from the department, but after weeks of waiting, no money came. So after reaching out to the department again, Henderson said they told him to send in more documents to start receiving payments. But up to now, there’s been no luck.

Kansas Capitol Bureau reached out to the Kansas Department of Labor to learn more about Henderson’s claim. We were told the agency had not received his forms in a timely fashion. Claimants usually have two business days to submit the necessary documents during the adjudication process. According to the department, Henderson had been denied PUA due to being “non-responsive to agency requests for information.” The department said a determination notice related to that denial was sent to the claimant via email on Aug. 24.

However, Henderson said he never saw that email or other papers that were sent. He also said call representatives he’s gotten in contact with have continued to this day to ask him for more paperwork to get the benefits, despite the department confirming his denial. The KDOL also noted he has the opportunity to appeal the decision if he disagrees. But Henderson is not sure how to navigate the process given what he’s heard from the state and others so far.

Now, Henderson is trying to get in contact with someone to figure out his next steps. But, he said even that has been a struggle, especially now that he’s back to work.

“They hang up on you, and it’s frustrating when you’re waiting on hold for five hours, especially when you have a job, and you took off to get ahold of somebody,” Henderson said. “There’s a lot of people out there like me that hasn’t been paid, and I’d like help from my state and my government to get the people the money that is owed to them.”

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