Senate Commerce Committee holds hearing on Kansas unemployment system

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)-- The Senate Commerce Committee held a full-day hearing on Kansas’ unemployment system yesterday, Thursday, May 14.

Senate President Susan Wagle testified along with several unemployed Kansans from across the state. The testimonies showed much frustration and a failure by the Department of Labor.

The Committee also passed legislation to keep the state in compliance with federal regulations from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

President Wagle received over 1,000 emails from unemployed Kansas that detailed grave failures of the Department of Labor. Problems included hours-long hold times, calls numbering in the thousands and abrupt hang-ups when the virtual queue was “full,” even at 7 a.m. when the office opens.

“To put it quite simply, I am appalled by the absolute failure by the Department of Labor that I have witnessed during this pandemic,” says Wagle. “The administration has blamed nearly everyone, except themselves. I applaud this committee for looking into this matter. I pray our state learns a lesson from this catastrophe, and never fails our citizens in this way again. It is a shame the Secretary of Labor was not present to see the faces of Kansans who are on the front lines of the unemployment crisis.”

Department of Labor Secretary, Delia Garcia, was not present at the meeting but provided testimony by phone as well as members of the Information Technology team.

The committee also passed a motion to bring legislation to the Senate floor that would ensure there is no gap in federal funding for the unemployment program, specifically funds coming from the CARES Act. The changes to Kansas’ unemployment law includes waiving the week-long waiting period and allowing for long-term extensions of unemployment.

“I am grateful to the Commerce Committee for their commitment to completing a full day hearing on the matter of unemployment, and for listening with compassion to the tragic stories told by Kansans our system has failed,” says Senator Larry Alley, Vice Chair of the committee. “I am pleased however, we could pass legislation to help bring the state into compliance with federal mandates created by the CARES Act.”

Several Kansans, Luke Aichele, a barber from McPherson; Jake Baker, a self-employed contractor; Heath Harrington, Cheney; Michael Hotchkiss, furloughed from Textron Aviation; Dale Long, a Human Resource manager; Andreas Vandever, a former manager who placed over 14,000 calls to the unemployment line, and Jim Washington, an on-call Army contractor.