Unemployment Council to look into fraud, reform

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, (KSNT)— The Unemployment Improvement Council kicked off their first meeting on Monday with a long list of agenda items ahead, including taking steps to look into the number of fraudulent claims paid out in the past year.

Representative Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, said the council will reconvene in person Thursday and Friday of next week at the Statehouse to address several issues. One item on the table is taking the first steps in choosing an independent auditor to investigate fraudulent claims. The audit will need to be completed by May 1, 2022.

“No one wants a conflict of interest, we just want to get to the bottom of things,” Rep. Tarwater said.

This comes after the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit (LPA) released their estimates on unemployment insurance fraud in the state back in February.

The numbers showed the amount of unemployment fraud could be more than double what the state predicts, predicting $600 million in fraudulent claims paid out in 2020.

However, the state’s labor department released a report prior, estimating $290 million in fraud payments. The department then issued a press release, demanding the auditors retract the report.

“LPA’s estimate of $600 million in potential fraud is seriously flawed, and should be withdrawn.”

KANSAS DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

The council plans to address issues that created stress for many unemployed Kansans during the coronavirus pandemic, which includes long call lines and payment delays, on top of the department dealing with high volumes of fraud. The problems eventually led to a string of protests, demanding the state for a solution.

According to the department, the Regular Unemployment Insurance backlog was eliminated in January and as of June 1, the approximate number of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants that need to be adjudicated is approximately 368. The week prior, June 7, the number was approximately 538.

The department has blamed many of the issues on an antiquated computer system, another priority the council plans to address. The state’s labor department provided the following statement in an email on Monday regarding the current status of their I.T. modernization project.

KDOL is still in the request for proposal process, but plans on having a vendor selected this summer to move forward quickly with the project.

KANSAS DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

The initial goal was to complete the modernization project by the end of 2022, but Rep. Tarwater said that after reviewing the date with other parties in the state Senate, it may take more time.

“I also spoke with other states, as far as what they’re doing, and their implementation of the programs that are actually working, and I’m being told that it would be difficult to hit that goal,” he said.

Tarwater said an estimated date for completion of the project will be discussed at the next meeting as well. The council plans to meet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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