TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — After months of issues within the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL), head of the department Secretary Delia Garcia has resigned. Now, the extent of KDOL’s issues are coming to light.
Garcia’s resignation came on Sunday night, following a week of major problems. Some Kansans were mistakenly paid their weekly claim twice in one week. KDOL then instructed the bank to take back the double payment from Kansans’ personal bank accounts; this is a process known as clawbacking. Most were not notified that this was going to occur, and some are alleging that money was taken out despite not having been double-paid. This has left some Kansans with negative account balances and overdraft fees.
Under the FAQ section on the KDOL website, it previously stated that the department can only deposit money into accounts, not withdraw. At her press conference on Monday afternoon, Governor Kelly said that her office told KDOL leadership not to clawback payments, however, it was still done.
“There was clearly a break in communications,” said Governor Kelly. “My staff did talk directly to Labor leadership, and at some point the clawback happened after the leadership knew that was not to happen. What we need to figure out is why.”
The Governor added that her office is looking into what happened; she said she is unsure of where the miscommunication happened. A phone number and email will be set up specifically for the people who had money taken out of their accounts; she says they will be reimbursed.
“It will be a tedious process to figure all of that out, but we have every intention of figuring out who was impacted and to what degree and to make them whole,” said the Governor.
But this isn’t the first problem that KDOL and Governor Kelly have run into. Kansans have been struggling for months to get their unemployment benefits. For some, it seems, lack of organization at the department is putting them in serious trouble.
Elijah Bloxham received a packet of information regarding his unemployment appeal, but the information in the packet wasn’t his, but belonged to a stranger.
“It’s got his name, his social, his address, the school he went to, previous employers,” explained Bloxham. “All information you wouldn’t want someone else to have.”
Elijah says that he has reached out to the man whose information he mistakenly received, but Bloxham is concerned that his personal information was also sent to the wrong person.
“Since I got his, someone else has probably gotten mine and I’m just worried about…you know, the wrong person getting a hold of my information,” he added.
Elijah has attempted to contact KDOL multiple times to find out where his packet of information has been sent, but he says, despite the seriousness of his issue, he has not received any response.
“They’re just not responding at all,” he said.
Dani Creasy was laid-off in April and she, like thousands of others, is waiting on her unemployment benefits. She says she is a member of a private Facebook group with other Kansans struggling to get benefits.
“It’s so frustrating and so unfortunate and it just needs to be heard,” said Dani. “People need to understand that it’s a very very big issue.”
Dani added that it’s difficult to not feel hopeless when it’s impossible to get a response from someone at KDOL. She estimates that she calls the department about 100 times per day, but has yet to get through to a representative.
“I’ve called over 800 times, I’ve emailed multiple senators, I’ve left messages on the Governor’s voicemail, and I’ve yet to receive any communication back,” she said.
This has become a common issue for many Kansans. When calling the department there is no option to hold. You must keep redialing until eventually being placed on a waitlist, even then, some say the KDOL phone system hangs up on them after hours of waiting. Email addresses and callback request forms were put in place, but people argue the wait time on a response from those is even longer than using the phone.
Chloe Hough has been waiting on her unemployment benefits for six weeks. She says she was “frustrated with the lack of transparent communication” coming from KDOL. After contacting Julie Menghini, the Communications and Legislative Director with KDOL, directly via email, she received a response that said, in part, “What more do you think we should be messaging?”
In the email, the Menghini listed many ways that the department is keeping people updated on progress. According to the Menghini, this includes press releases, messaging and updating on social media platforms, frequently updating the ‘FAQ’ section of the website, “daily if not multiple per day” media interviews and previous attempts to do Facebook lives.
The last press release received by this reporter was on Friday, June 19th, 2020 regarding the May labor report. No press releases were sent about the clawback issues. Frequent attempts to set up interviews with a department representative have also been denied or left unanswered in recent weeks. According to the Department’s Facebook page, the last live video held by the department was on April 10, 2020.
Menghini continues in the email to Hough, “I am truly interested in what else you think we should be messaging, because our goal is to help people…I am happy to take any suggestions that you have.”
Chloe was surprised by the response, “I somewhat wondered if the suggestions comment was a bit sarcastic.”
But she said she took the opportunity to send a response, in the hope that it would create a change and get more information out to people in as many ways as possible.
“This is a government agency, they owe us communication,” said Chloe.
See Chloe’s full response below:
Governor Kelly said in her press conference on Monday that she is aware of the issues with KDOL’s response times. She said specialists will be brought in to find ways to fix those issues.
“I would like to apologize to the Kansans who have been unable to get the help they need, because of the stress on our system,” said the Governor. “I’m committed to making transparent and thorough improvements to our system, to ensure that Kansans who are out of work, through no fault of their own, are getting the assistance they need.”
The Governor added that she will be continuing to update people when additional resources become available.