KDOL secretary resigns after months-long unemployment issues

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions from reporters about the state's response to the...
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions from reporters about the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak, Sunday, March 15, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kelly joined the state's education commissioner in urging schools to remain closed for the week. (AP Photo/John Hanna) (KWCH)
Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 10:14 AM CDT
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Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has announced Monday several actions to address the issues impacting the Kansas Department of Labor's ability to handle the recent volume of unemployment insurance claims.

The governor's office said KDOL Secretary Delia Garcia resigned from her position and the Governor's Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Wright will serve as acting Secretary of Labor until a permanent replacement is found.

Kelly's office said she will also bring in specialists to look for ways to improve response times for Kansans applying for unemployment and implement new processes to manage the caseload and mitigate future backlogs and errors in the system.

“As Governor, I’m responsible for KDOL’s handling of unemployment claims. I am taking immediate action to ensure Kansans who are out of work, through no fault of their own, are getting the assistance they need,” Governor Kelly said in a press release. “I want to thank Secretary García for her service to Kansas. While states around the country have struggled to manage unemployment claims during the worst public health crisis in a century, Secretary García inherited an agency that had its funding, its technology, and its staff gutted by the previous administration.”

The governor's office said on June 10, duplicate payments were made to more than 4,500 claimants of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and some Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation claimants for a total of around $7 million. Then, without consulting the governor's office, on June 18, KDOL began attempting to reverse the duplicate payments, which caused some recipients bank accounts to be overdrawn.

Elizabeth Bishop represents the 88th District (southeast Wichita) in the Kansas House. She said she demanded answers from the governor's office after hearing from constituents who were frustrated with the state's unemployment system.

"Last week, I sent out an email to some of the constituents that I've been working with and said if you have received payment recently. Don't spend it way because something is going to develop with this," said Bishop on Monday.

She said the issue did not solely fall on Secretary Garcia.

"I regret very much that the Secretary of Labor feels she needs to resign. I think she's a very competent reliable person who did her very best in a highly difficult role. But I also have worked with constituents who don't care," said Bishop.

The Kansas Department of Labor is working with its partner banks to identify and reimburse anyone whose account was overdrawn because of the situation, including overdraft fees. KDOL will also create a special hotline and an email for Kansans who have been impacted. That number and email address have not yet been released.