KS Labor Dept. takes steps to catch up with unemployment demand

Published: Apr. 1, 2020 at 10:33 PM CDT
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The toll the COVID-19 pandemic is having on businesses and workers is shown in the state's unemployment numbers.

Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia and her staff are taking to social media to open the lines of communication with what they acknowledge is a frustrated public as they struggle to help their systems keep up with demand.

This week last year, the Kansas Dept. of Labor saw around 1500 unemployment claims filed. The week ending March 14th this year, it was 1800.

Then, coronavirus cases started climbing, businesses started closing -- and 23,925 people filed claims the week ending March 21st. For the week ending March 28, it was 55,428.

It represents a year-to-year increase of 3,554 percent.

"The sheer capacity - no one, no one in this country or this world knew this was going to happen," Garcia said Wednesday during a Facebook live during which she and training manager Alex Adame updated the situation and answered questions.

The department said it knows many people are getting busy signals, or put on hold when they call. In fact, an issue Wednesday morning had the phones hanging up on people. Garcia said that was fixed.

The KS Labor Dept. said it received more than 877,000 call attempts to their unemployment line Monday - on single day. Before the COVID-19 crisis, it averaged 1100 calls a week.

A spokesperson said Wednesday the Labor Dept. had increased its number of phone lines to 200, and added 40 intake workers. They're also training more staff from other areas.

The agency also fixed a glitch Wednesday that was telling filers they still had to wait a week for benefits. The governor issued an executive order waiving the wait, so people should not worry if they received the message.

Also, they added a button to their web site Wednesday that allows people to retrieve their user name and password online - without having to try to get through on the phone lines.

Labor officials say online is the best way to file a claim,

. They remind you to make sure you are using ".gov" to ensure it is the correct site.

"We will continue working with you. We will continue listening to you. We see you. We hear you. We will get through this together. It will take a partnership," Garcia said.

Garcia and Adame also said during the Facebook live session that they are waiting for federal guidance on how people who are self-employed will sign up for the special pandemic unemployment benefits included in recent legislation.

They suggested people apply for the regular unemployment benefits now. They cautioned the claim will be denied, but then it will be on file for when the pandemic benefits process is set.

To see the complete Facebook live, and participate in future sessions, go to the Kansas Dept. of Labor page on Facebook.