Kansans frustrated with long call lines, payment delays, rally outside labor office

Unemployment Situation

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)— A group of Kansans frustrated with the state’s unemployment system rallied outside the Kansas Department of Labor on Wednesday.

Kansans voiced their concerns about payment delays and struggling to get in contact with the labor office.

“I call about 1,000 times plus a week,” said Christina Bestvater of Wichita.

Bestvater said she’s called almost every day, since January, taking up hours of her time.

“I’ve tried any number I can find,” she said. “It’s mentally draining.”

Re’Nae Pherigo organized the protest. Pherigo said she wants unemployed Kansans’ voices to be heard.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and a crisis,” Pherigo said. “We’re the ones being left behind.”

The state is in the process of onboarding 500 new support staff for its contact center. The labor office said it’s already seeing some changes and are hoping to see even more improvements once all the workers are fully brought on.

A spokesperson for the state’s labor department gave the following statement on Wednesday:

“As we onboard and add more customer service agents, we have seen calls into the contact center dropping. From 02/09 – 02/15 the average total number of unique calls per day into our contact center was approximately 352,860. From 03/17 – 03/21 the average total number of unique calls per day into our contact center was approximately 136,530. This drop is two-fold, KDOL believes.

Kansas Department of Labor

According to the department, the department is also continuing to pay out more claimants due to the deployment of the American Rescue Plan and Continued Assistance Act requirements from the recent stimulus deal. From February 13 to March 29, the department said it’s paid out more than $150 million in federal and state benefits. They said this has attributed to fewer people needing to call in.

Lawmakers are working on long-term solutions to the unemployment system, with some trying to push for new initiatives to get claimants’ help.

The state Senate also unanimously voted to confirm Amber Schultz as the department’s permanent labor secretary on Wednesday. In her confirmation hearing prior, she promised to help rebuild the state’s unemployment system and tackle issues with modernizing their computer system, payment delays and unemployment fraud.

“I hear your frustrations. I’m committed to building the trust of Kansans, and I will continue our forward momentum,” Schultz said.

But, Pherigo and other protesters are hoping the state will find a quicker solution to the problems it’s having, as some struggle to make ends meet.

“Stop placing blame and just do it,” Pherigo said.

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