Kansas labor department pushes new reemployment program

Modernization council considers facial recognition strategies

By: - July 12, 2021 5:05 pm

The Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council, chaired by Rep. Sean Tarwater, heard updates Monday on KDOL’s efforts to enroll claimants in a reemployment program and brainstormed potential ideas to undercut fraud attempts. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Department of Labor is making a push this week to sign unemployment claimants up for the state’s newly buffed reemployment assistance program.

The enhanced My Reemployment Plan program, part of House Bill 2196 approved by the Kansas Legislature in May, is intended to help those who are unemployed find new jobs in the state. Those who do not participate in the program organized through the Department of Commerce could have their unemployment insurance benefits suspended.

KDOL has referred over 16,000 claimants to the Department of Commerce for enrollment since June 30. But the influx of new users has proven somewhat of a challenge, said KDOL Deputy Secretary Peter Brady.

“We noticed that there were some issues with claimants having previous KANSASWORKS accounts or other things where they are trying very hard to become in compliance with this requirement but there may be some limiting factors,” Brady said. “What the Department of Commerce has decided to do is a push this week to get as many claimants to the Kansas work system signed up through any technical issues and then report the noncompliance to KDOL at noon Friday.”

The program began June 1 and requires those who have received three straight weeks of unemployment benefits to build a resume and complete a job search on the KANSASWORKS Workforce System. The job search plan and all other steps must be completed and emailed to the Department of Commerce within seven days.

Brady provided updates on the reemployment program Monday to the state’s new Unemployment Compensation Modernization and Improvement Council, chaired by Rep. Sean Tarwater, a Stilwell Republican. Lawmakers, labor experts and business and community leaders also brainstormed approaches to help the state prevent future fraud and ensure Kansans with legitimate claims are paid.

One idea was to institute some form of video or photo verification to better filter out fraudulent claims. Rep. Susan Estes, R-Wichita, suggested tying in the Kansas Department of Revenue for use of a driver’s license.

“I want to give (KDOL) a fighting chance and it sure would cut down on the number of people who are calling you guys and pretending to be someone else,” Estes said. “If you had a photo from a driver’s license or state issued ID card and you put that person on video conference, they’re not going to get very far with you if they’re a bad actor.”

While Brady could not confirm if such a method is in use in other states, he said further crosschecking of identities is something that will be considered. Some panelists, however, expressed concern that video conferences could prevent people without access to a computer from making claims.

In Florida, the state hired ID.me — a facial recognition and verification company — to help combat unemployment fraud. Bias within the software resulted in critics and users calling out the potential barriers created by the service in June.

As of late spring, KDOL Secretary Amber Schultz reported about 50,000 cases of fraud have been passed on to various levels of law enforcement. The department is awaiting an updated figure of how many more cases have been turned over since then.

Cases being sent to law enforcement does not mean that the names or locations of all perpetrators are known, said Laurel Searles, director of unemployment insurance administration within KDOL.

“It’s not necessarily that we know it’s Joe Smith out of Arkansas that we need to prosecute,” Searles said. “It’s the various data and details related to the case so they can further look for trends and connections between these claims, because we do know that there are rings piling massive numbers of claims throughout the nation.”

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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.