Gov. Laura Kelly said the Kansas Department of Labor’s computer system handling unemployment claims will be taken offline from Saturday until Tuesday to install security upgrades to counter fraudulent activity.

Kelly said recent expansion in first-time job claims was likely tied to criminal enterprises attempting to steal state or federal benefits designed to flow to people who lost jobs in the pandemic.

“There has been a surge in the number of claims recently,” the Democratic governor said. “That very much could be related to the fraudulent claims that are being submitted.”

She said fixes developed in collaboration with the consulting firm Accenture would improve verification systems to make it more complicated for someone attempting to gain traction with merely a stolen Social Security number. Other states previously adopted this upgrade, she said, but the Department of Labor’s antiquated computer network required an unusual amount of preparatory work. The system is 45 years old and the Kelly administration has pointed to the need for an overhaul of the network.

“We expect the number of fraudulent claims will plummet because we will have that protection in there,” Kelly said.

The governor said she anticipated naming a permanent labor secretary in the near future. Brett Flachsbarth, who has served as acting secretary since December, was asked to hold the job until a permanent appointment. He replaced Ryan Wright, who stepped into the secretary’s job upon resignation in June of embattled labor secretary Delia Garcia.

Garcia resigned amid escalating problems with the state’s unemployment insurance caseload. She also was held responsible for a decision made without consulting the governor to reverse $7 million in duplicate payments to more than 4,500 people. The process of clawing back the cash caused some bank accounts to be overdrawn, officials said.

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