Kansas Department of Labor Acting Secretary Ryan Wright says the unemployment benefit backlogs are thinning, the call center gridlock appears resolved and plans are under development to overhaul the agency’s IT network. Wright, who has been on board since June, says when he accepted the job the department had a backlog of 26,000 claims.

They’ve been able to cut the backlog to 12,000 claims, and he hopes to eliminate the backlog by the end of this month. He’s done that in part by increasing the size of his team.

“At the height of this, when the agency was getting 1.5 million call attempts a day, there were around 25 employees answering phones. Now, we’re at around 100 KDOL employees. We’ve got 150 Accenture folks on the phones,” said Wright.

According to Wright, the longest anybody was on hold last week was 20 minutes. That’s particularly good, since Wright says 110,000 Kansans have been certified as losing their jobs due to COVID-19.

“I used to hear a lot about people not getting through, not getting responses,” Wright said. “Right now, we’re hearing a lot about identity theft.”

Identity-theft crooks are concentrated in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, the Federal program that offered benefits to self-employed people, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance aid.

“To date, we’ve stopped 55,000 fraudulent claims. It’s all targeted to the PUA program. To give you some idea of the scope, the U.S. Department of Labor’s office of inspector general estimates that this is costing taxpayers $8 billion nationally. This is absolutely hitting every state right now.”

A large part of the department’s troubles stemmed from its antiquated computer system that wasn’t up to handling the demand. The department has been able to push through thanks to a series of IT network patches that helped stabilize the system. However, the department’s goal is to totally upgrade the system.

They’re finishing up the modernization plan, and hope to have it ready to present to the legislature by the end of this year. The estimated cost is $30 million that Wright and Gov. Laura Kelly hope will be paid for in an upcoming stimulus package plan to help state governments.

Kansas labor department digs out of help-line quagmire, reduces claim backlog

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