WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Thousands of people are still caught in a Kansas Department of Labor backlog. KSN has heard from many of them who say they are not getting the benefits the KDOL owes them, plus they cannot get anyone from KDOL on the phone.
The state says it’s doing everything it can to help people who’ve lost their jobs.
Susan Leslie of Wichita lost her job in the spring of 2020. When she is not trying to reach the KDOL on the phone, she tries to find solace at Sedgwick County Park.
She puts her phone down and grabs peanuts for the squirrels and seeds for the birds. It’s therapeutic for the 39 year old walking through the park.
“All the birds are very calming,” Leslie said. “Because it’s kind of crazy, if you’re not around something that calms you.”
She described what it’s like trying to call KDOL’s unemployment benefits line.
“When I call, it’s always, ‘Thank you for calling the Kansas Department of Labor Unemployment benefits line,’ and then it gets to the end, and then it says, ‘All call center representatives are engaged with other claimants at this time,'” Leslie said. “It’s horrible because you keep trying to talk to KDOL and nobody can ever get through.”
Her regular unemployment insurance ran out in January 2021, so she applied for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) which is set to expire September 5, 2021. Leslie tells KSN she didn’t get any of that money yet and can’t get an answer from the state as to why.
She feels like she is at a breaking point.
“Without money coming in, I mean, you can’t pay for stuff,” Leslie said.
During a conference call with KDOL, the leaders announced the state is taking bids from software companies as the state looks to overhaul the entire unemployment system at a cost of $40-50 million over the next three to five years. The new system would modernize the unemployment benefits process, state taxing and collections.
KSN also asked KDOL about Leslie’s case. While representatives wouldn’t talk specifically about her situation, a representative told KSN, “There is no PEUC backlog.”
But when it comes to another federal COVID relief program, Pandemic Unemployment Assitance (PUA), as of March 30th, the state had to process 18,756 claims, and 12,439 of the cases are classified in the “verification/upload process.”
“I just want to get paid,” Leslie said.
She is thankful to find joy in the outdoors.
“You just throw them some food and they’ll come down and get it,” Leslie said about the birds, as she waits for the state to throw her a lifeline.
“One of these days, I’m hoping I’ll get to talk to a live person,” she said. “I’ll keep trying.”