Council launches venture to reform Kansas unemployment benefits system

By: - June 14, 2021 4:35 pm

Rep. Sean Tarwater, chairman of the unemployment modernization council, laid out upcoming dates and tasks for the newly formed panel. The council will meet in person next week at the Statehouse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The newly formed council focused on modernizing Kansas’ “archaic” unemployment system laid preliminary groundwork Monday on its first task of reviewing the claims application and benefit receipt process.

The Unemployment Compensation, Modernization, and Improvement Council must submit a report within 14 days on the process by which individuals file unemployment insurance claims and receive benefits. The council also is tasked with suggesting improvements for the process.

“We’re required to examine and recommend changes to the unemployment system, examine the claim filing and benefit disbursement process and any future changes to it,” said Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, chairman of the council, “and examine and recommend changes on topics including, but not limited to, technological infrastructure improvements to this system responsiveness, integrity, security and data verification and methods of information sharing.”

Under House Bill 2196 — the law creating the council and enacting several other reforms to the state’s unemployment system — the council was required to be fully appointed and have met by Monday. Panel members will officially begin work Thursday and Friday of next week when they gather in person at the Statehouse.

The 13-member council includes seven non-legislative members — three representatives of employers, three representatives of employees and Kansas labor secretary Amber Schultz — appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president. The council’s six legislative members include a House and a Senate member from the majority party, the Republican chairman or chairwoman of committees overseeing UI legislation from both chambers, and a minority party member from the House and Senate.

The task force will carry on efforts from within the governor’s office and Legislature to patch holes in the system made even more apparent amid COVID-19. An influx of unemployment claims, fraudulent claims and the 40-year-old IT system led to a public backlash to address the system with haste.

Another primary task is finding a firm to do an audit of the system. That audit must be complete by May 1, 2022, so the pressure is on to get the process rolling, Tarwater said. 

Another point of interest voiced by the panel was the state’s response to fraud. 

“We’ve got the recommendations of changes to the system, and we also have a kind of a fraud track,” said Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth. “How are we going to deal with fraud and what have we done so far?”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.