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State of Kansas working to meet demands with surge in unemployment claims

(WCAX)
Published: Apr. 2, 2020 at 12:28 PM CDT
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Update Thursday evening, April 2, 2020

With a surge in unemployment claims across the state, the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) announces efforts to meet a growing demand from workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and needing assistance.

In the state, more than 60,000 people filed unemployment claims last week. Most of those claims came from Sedgwick County where data shows nearly 18,000 people in the county filed for unemployment.

The surge in claims led to higher call volumes than the state's department of labor was able to handle. People were encouraged to file claims on the department's website, where heavy traffic led to further issues.

On Monday, the KDOL unemployment hotline received nearly 900,000 calls and a similar number of emails. Many reached out to Eyewitness, upset that they couldn't get through.

At a press conference Thursday, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly discusses steps being taken to get questions answered and claims approved.

"First, we've brought on Amazon web service, which will help expand capacity for the call centers," Kelly says. "It will also allow us to begin sorting out types of calls so that those who need to talk to somebody, who need help filing out their forms, can do so."

A vast majority of calls to the KDOL unemployment line have been for accounts that needed a username or password reset. Now, if someone needs to do that, they can be routed elsewhere to more quickly get help they need to file a claim.

The state is also bringing in more people to answer calls. Some employees outside of the labor department will help to answer questions relating to passwords and other technical issues. The state is also bringing in retirees and others who formerly worked for the agency to answer calls.

Gov. Kelly is calling the effort the largest temporary employee reassignment in the state's history. Kelly advises those who call the Kansas Department of Labor not to hang up and call again as doing so puts you in the back of the line again.

As they work to improve communication and availability for Kansans needing assistance with filing unemployment claims, state officials stress patience, promising that someone will get to your call.

“First and foremost, my goal is to help Kansas workers,” KDOL Secretary Delía García says. “We are working to address the challenges we inherited with our aging UI system. In the meantime, my team will continue our efforts to connect with impacted workers and businesses during this critical time. I know these are trying times for everyone. We will get through this together.”

Kelly says current problems highlight the need for what has been a long-overdue equipment and system upgrade for the department of labor. She says the state is scrambling to make improvements and emphasized that

is still the best route to take if you can.

As part of a recent executive order from Kelly, the department waived a waiting week requirement for COVID-19-related claims that have been filed and processed.

"We are aware of issues related to the payment of the waiting week. Implementing this waiver in this rapidly changing environment has proved challenging due to the limitations within our current technology," the labor department says." At this time approximately 60 percent of claimants who have a waiting week that qualify for payment have received that payment. We are working diligently to address the issues preventing payment for the remaining qualified claimants. Claimants do not need to call or refile the week. We ask that you please continue to be patient and know that you will receive these funds."

Increased demands from the department of labor are expected to continue with the unemployment-rate surge. One model from Wichita State University predicts the situation could significantly worsen before the local economy begins to recover.

"Our initial estimate, which we are going to be refining over the next couple days is that employment, which is different than unemployment, could decline 34 percent," says Jeremy Hill, director of Wichita State's Center of Economic Development and Business Research. "A lot of that is driven by manufacturing here."

Data from the state's labor department shows manufacturing and food services have the highest number of unemployment claims in the state.

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Delía García, secretary for the Kansas Department of Labor, will join Governor Laura Kelly in today’s daily press briefing at 2 p.m. in the Kansas Statehouse, Secretary of State Ceremonial Office, 212A-N, to discuss the latest updates regarding COVID-19.

The governor and Secretary García will be seated at a table, appropriately socially distanced, for the duration of the conference. Two microphones may be needed.

Additionally, if you are a member of the press and have a question to ask the Governor during the press conference, text Lauren at 785.581.4730. All other details remain the same.

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