Kansans struggle to get unemployment insurance and pandemic assistance

KDOL security update means benefits will be delayed.

IOLA, Kan. – Iola residents Vickie and Jack Geisler have both been unemployed since March. They qualify for unemployment insurance and other pandemic assistance, but have run into some issues.

“It’s a little over three grand they owe me,” says Vickie Geisler.

Vickie says that at first, they were both able to draw unemployment insurance without many issues. It wasn’t until after her regular benefits had been exhausted, when she applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (or PUA), that she stopped getting checks. That was six weeks ago.

“They told me that my weeks were payable and they would pay out as soon as they got the updates fixed in the system,” says Geisler. “I haven’t seen any money yet.”

Her husband’s unemployment was set to end this week, with one final check coming. But that check is being delayed because of a security update that the Kansas Department of Labor is doing to address an increase in fraudulent claims. That delay is also keeping the Geisler’s from applying for extensions to his unemployment insurance.

“We were relying on that last bit of money to help pay the utility bill and, guess what, no money because they stopped everybody’s payments from going out,” says Geisler. “So we’re stuck in a hole right now with no way to get out of it.”

Vickie says that she was hired for a new job on Thursday, but won’t start until a week from now — pushing her first paycheck out by a few weeks.

The Geisler’s aren’t the only ones that are running into issues in southeast Kansas, or across the state.

When the Kansas Department of Labor announced that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (FPUC) program would start paying out on January 22nd, the Facebook post was flooded with more than a thousand comments. The majority of which are residents saying they never received their payment, asking how to get ahold of KDOL because of a delay to their payment, or something similar.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (FPUC) program will begin paying out today.

❗️ There is no need to apply…

Posted by Kansas Department of Labor on Friday, January 22, 2021

Residents have also reached out to KOAM directly to let us know that they haven’t received payments, and that they can’t get through to anyone with KDOL. They also say that when they can get through to a person, it’s someone that can’t provide satisfactory answers to their questions.

“It’s obvious that some of them haven’t been trained properly to answer questions,” says Geisler.

We reached out to KDOL on Thursday to see when residents can expect to see their unemployment insurance payments this week. A representative with the Kansas Department of Labor said that there are currently more than 14 thousand pandemic unemployment assistance program claims attached to the 2020 CARES Act that are in the determination process. The system that is not ready to payout residents right now is attached to the Continued Assistance Act, which was signed into law in December.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to verify and validate. It could mean they are missing paperwork or need to upload a form of identification. They can do this through the portal or by calling the call center.”

The representative went on to say,

“In terms of the other Continued Assistance Act programs, we continue to work to move forward and get those programs up and running as soon as possible. We have not yet publicly announced a date in which we will have those programs up and running. As you also may know, we have an antiquated UI computer system we are working with, and updating these programs into the system take time. This isn’t like going to Best Buy and buying a laptop, the system development and programming takes time.

In terms of the call center, we are seeing an increase in high numbers of calls to the call center that can be traced back to automatic dialing services. Auto dialers do not work with the KDOL phone system. A claimant must call in each time and go through the menu prompts. An auto dialer will not get a claimant through the menu and into the queue. In fact, using one burdens the phone system, making it more difficult for anyone to get through to a customer service representative.”

We also asked the representative how long it usually takes the department to update their UI system for new Continued Assistance Act programs, as well as when residents can expect to receive the payments that are being delayed because of this weekend’s security update.

“We are dealing with 70s era technology. We continue to test and update our legacy computer systems to ensure we can process the revised federal benefits and bring much-needed relief to eligible claimants. The Continued Assistance Act mandates additional identity verification requirements for claimants. As we announced yesterday, the system we are rolling out for including two-factor account authentication is an example, and requires us to take the system down to implement. The Continued Assistance Act also mandates additional notification requirements for those employees who refuse to return to work. It also allows for employers to report any employees who refuse to return to work. All this work, as examples, have to be done.

Once the system is back up, I can’t tell you when someone will get their funds for those days the system is down, but they will get the dollars they are owed.”

With no indication of when delayed benefits will come, or when new programs will start, residents like the Geisler’s are left waiting.

“Pay the people what you owe them. You know? Just pay out,” says Geisler. “Get things rolling so people can get some money because there’s so many people that need it right now.”

The representative with KDOL also told us some things that residents should keep in mind when trying to reach the department.

“Try not to call between 8:00-9:00 a.m. or 1:00-2:00 p.m. Claimants should avoid calling in at those hours. Try not to call on Mondays either, this is our highest call volume day. Friday is the best day for a claimant to call. Once a claimant has been placed into the queue, do not hang up. Do not hang up and call back. This action will not help a claimant get through to an agent quicker.  Daily averages: We have often have days where there are 250,000 + call attempts and over 15,000 unique callers. These statistics reflect our spike in calls. The average number of call attempts under these metrics is almost 30 call attempts by each unique caller. If large scale auto dialers are removed from this average, then the average call attempt drops to between the range of 7-12 call attempts. The auto dialers are significant hindrance to claimants getting through the system, they will not get you into the call queue. If call queues are full, and she/he is not able to connect to the system, the person’s call is terminated and she/he is asked to call back at a later time. While frustrating, this is a better solution for claimants and CSRs.”


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