TOPEKA — Five Kansas Republicans in the U.S. congressional delegation and the GOP leaders of the Kansas House and Senate urged Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration to respond more promptly to people filing unemployment claims.
The seven Republican elected officials sent a letter to Kelly expressing disappointment in performance of the Kansas Department of Labor. In addition, the GOP politicians said they were convinced individual case referrals from their offices had been ignored by the executive branch in Topeka.
“The fact of the matter is Kansans’ livelihoods have been put on the line during the upheaval caused by the department’s instability,” the letter said. “When Kansans are getting evicted from their homes or are unable to purchase groceries and are calling for help but receiving none, it is evident something must change immediately.”
Signers of the letter were U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, U.S. Reps. Ron Estes, Jake LaTurner and Tracey Mann, Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman and Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson.
They recommended the labor department hire more people to answer telephone calls from Kansans seeking assistance, conduct a weekly conference call with congressional offices to discuss problems and designate labor department employees to handle “true hardship cases.”
Kelly proposed the 2021 Legislature authorize $37 million to upgrade the labor department’s computer network for processing unemployment insurance benefits. She also requested federal financial assistance to help Kansas and other states modernize antiquated systems relied on to deliver aid.
The GOP letter made the argument the state of Kansas wasn’t in need of supplemental federal funding to improve management at the labor department. They said the governor should have done more with $1.7 million appropriated by Congress to fight unemployment fraud during the pandemic. Estimates of fraud losses last year in Kansas range from $290 million to $600 million.
Amber Shultz, secretary of the state Department of Labor, said before the letter was issued Friday that Congress made it easier for people to attempt fraud by creating multiple new pandemic-related unemployment programs and prohibiting states from asking basic verification questions. She said it wasn’t until a law was signed in December that states could take more aggressive actin to verify claimant information.