Unemployment saga continues: thousands of payments on hold, frustrations over new changes

Unemployment Situation

TOPEKA, (KSNT)— As lawmakers meet at the statehouse to find solutions to problems with the state’s unemployment system, some unemployed Kansans are experiencing issues with payments.

Lawmakers met at the state capitol on Thursday to discuss a project to update the state’s outdated computer system, which the state’s labor office has blamed for many of the issues in dealing with claimants this past year. This includes long call lines and payment delays, which left thousands of Kansans struggling to make ends meet.

Representative Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, who leads the state’s Unemployment Modernization & Improvement Council, said while progress is being made, there’s still a “long way to go.”

“Our intent is to expedite the process, not slow it down, and to bring the best possible option at the very end.”

Tarwater said he’s heard fewer concerns about delayed unemployment payments. However, a new issue has surfaced with people signing up for the state’s re-employment program.

The “My Re-Employment Program” is a new initiative to get people back to work, connecting unemployed Kansans with jobs in their area. The program requires people that have received at least three consecutive weeks of unemployment payments to sign up, or they’ll be at risk of losing benefits.

According to state officials, as of this week, about 7,000 of the 16,000 claimants notified to participate in the program have had their accounts suspended. The state is now urging them to sign up for the program to continue getting paid.

“We’ll continue to work with those 7,000 people to rectify their situation, so they can continue receiving the benefits,” said Governor Laura Kelly.

Gov. Kelly held a ceremonial bill signing on Thursday for the new law, which has contributed to the recent changes with the state’s unemployment system. It’s what some lawmakers have called a necessary overhaul to get the state’s department of labor back on track.

Top state labor officials joined the ceremony, and said getting people paid is a top priority for the department.

“Our focus continues to be on getting legitimate claimants paid as timely and as efficiently as possible,” said Kansas Department of Labor Secretary Amber Shultz.

NEW DEBIT CARD DELAYS

However, some unemployment claimants have expressed concerns over getting paid on time or hearing back from the department.

The state’s labor office recently switched from to a new debit card provider, U.S. Bank, asking claimants to read and accepted the disclosure on their accounts in advance of the change, as to not experience delays.

Claimants were expected to receive their new cards on Tuesday. But now, some people are having to wait one to two weeks.

Brian Ramey from Osage City said he signed the disclosure form for the debit card as soon as he could.

“I got a confirmation email on the Fourth of July. I filled mine out, got my confirmation email that it was done,” he said.

Ramey thought he’d have his new card by now with the money he needed to pay bills, but when Tuesday came he was told he’d have to wait 7-10 business days before it arrives.

“It’s totally uncalled for and unjustified to not have that out there already when they expect you to adhere to all of their policies,” Ramey said. “But, then in turn, they do have a job.”

In an email to Kansas Capitol Bureau on Thursday a spokesperson for the department said a “myriad of reasons” could contribute to the delay.

“An example may be the claimant did not accept the US Bank disclosures, and we want to remind all claimants to please accept those. Cards cannot be sent out until this step is completed. We do ask that claimants be patient and cards are on their way. The first day the new US Bank cards were available to use was yesterday, July 21, and we have been messaging to claimants to please use their benefits on their Bank of America Debit card first.”

SPOKESPERSON, KANSAS DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

Ramey spoke with Kansas Capitol Bureau back in October 2020, about his issues getting federal unemployment benefits for his small business that was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, he’s been able to receive one of the federal programs, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

He said he applauds some state officials that have been able to get him help.

“They’ve been helping a lot of people. And they seem to get answers.”

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