KDOL still struggling with call volume, PUA benefits sent out

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — As the state reopens, many Kansans are going back to work, but some are still waiting to be paid their unemployment benefits. For many, it has been a struggle to make ends meet and, as of now, they aren’t receiving much help from the Kansas Department of Labor.

Kat Castilow has been trying for weeks to apply for unemployment. When she fills out the application, she gets an error message saying the information entered is incorrect. KDOL says it’s common for people to move too quickly when filling out their application and make small mistakes.

“Double, triple, quadruple check when you put in your social security number or your phone number or your address,” said KDOL Secretary Delia Garcia. “That’s happened more times than we had thought.”

Kat says she has re-filled out the application many times and checked her information carefully. Everything is entered correctly and yet she still receives the error message. So, she keeps trying.

“If you try three times, you get locked out for an hour and if you keep doing that, your lock out time extends further,” explained Kat.

Kat then began calling the department multiple times per day to get help. “And I called and called and called and called and called,” said Kat. “The only other recourse I had was to write.”

So Kat wrote a letter to KDOL begging for help, but hasn’t received an answer. But Kat is not alone in this frustration. Thousands of Kansans are calling the department for help, but often only get an automated message asking them to call back in an hour. Sometimes, the message doesn’t even play and the line goes dead.

KDOL says they received up to 250,000 calls per day and are aware the congested phone lines are an issue. They say they are working to fix it.

“We are doing our best to serve as many folks as we can and we are looking at ways to improve our phone system and increase our staffing,” said Laurel Klein Searles, Unemployment Insurance Director, KDOL.

Searles adds that the department is working to hire new staff to take calls, but she says the difficulty comes with the training, which takes time. KDOL is also looking to change their phone system to allow for more options when someone calls in. For example, separating out calls for password or username resets rather than just directing every call to the skilled representatives, who are there for specific case questions.

“I would encourage those people who do need to get into the contact center to check out our website, www.getkansasbenefits.gov, and look at the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ and the video tutorials, if it’s just kind of a general question,” explained Laurel. “We talk to our intake representatives to say, ‘what are the questions that you are hearing most frequently?’ So that we can update the frequently asked questions additional information.”

For Kat, she just wishes the department would let people know that they haven’t been forgotten. “I feel forgotten,” Kat said. “Opening up the website and seeing the same blurb at the heading at the top.”

Kat says she would feel a bit better if the department made more frequent announcements, even just to say things are still processing.

For those waiting on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, if you applied and qualified, that money was sent out on Tuesday. If you chose to have your money directly deposited into your bank account, you should see the funds within the next 2-3 days. If you chose to receive a debit card with your money, that will take about a week to get to your mailbox.

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