FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) -- Matthew DeWolfe can tell you a thing or two about the Kansas Department of Labor. None of it is good.
“It was an average of 150 to 160 calls before I could get through. Hang up. Redial. Hang up. Redial,” Matthew DeWolfe said.
DeWolfe is like thousands across Kansas trying to straighten out benefits.
“I even had one lady that said, ‘Congratulations! This is so exciting! The supervisor just pressed the button! You should have it on Monday!!!!” Matthew DeWolfe said.
That never happened... and seven months have rolled by.
His claim is still under review a process which DeWolfe describes as “maddening.”
His family is down to $300 in the bank account and will soon lose car insurance. One car may be repossessed. The goal is simply food and utilities.
Many states struggled with the sudden wave of residents needing benefits. Kansas isn’t alone.
But seven months in, Kansas does appear to be exceptional in its inability to pay people who deserve benefits.
Facebook groups have popped up as strangers try to walk each other through things like food stamps now that safety nets have clearly failed.
KCTV5 previously interviewed a single mother who lost her apartment, car and even the support dog for her autistic child when Kansas failed to pay her pandemic unemployment benefits.
Michelle Tran has since received some benefits but points out the damage has been done and her credit is now destroyed.
She’s bunking in with a friend in California.
KCTV5 posted in a Facebook group for those struggling with unemployment. More than 100 people responded:
“Unemployed back in March and April and still have not received a penny due to IT problems.”
“No payment since May.”
“It is working on it. 6 1/2 months later still ‘glitches’.”
“Thank god I have an understanding landlord! If I didn’t, me and my two kids would be homeless. Oh, and btw, I have Covid.”
“What happened to Governor Kelly saying any mistakes they made, they would make good on?"
Who’s responsible for the mess?
The Kansas Department of Labor has long explained the department is plagued with IT problems and ancient computer systems. Some seven months later, those excuses are wearing thin.
The Governor has spoken out about the challenges.
On June 22, she accepted the resignation of the current secretary.
“Mistakes were made and I’m taking responsibility for them. We are going to fix them and move quickly and aggressively,” said Governor Laura Kelly. “I am committed to making transparent and through improvements to our system to ensure Kansans who are out of work, through no fault of their own, are getting the assistance they need.”
The KS DOL has declined any on camera interviews. A spokesperson previously responded with explanations of computer problems and promises that glitches were being fixed.
We were recently directed to the governor’s office for comment. Governor Kelly declined an on-camera interview but did answer a list of questions submitted by our iTeam.
Below is a summary of her responses. For a complete look Q&A click here.
“We continue to make progress. However, we are working with, and attempting to improve, technology from the 1970s. This administration was the first, after 40 years, to begin the modernization process for replacing our mainframe computer system that was implemented in the 70’s."
"We are putting a plan together for the next legislative session. We have been told that the cost to modernize our legacy systems could range from $30-50 million."
"All of the federal programs will continue to pay out, if a claim is found to be valid and occurred within the eligible time-period, even if the program has ended. The only current exception to this is the Lost Wage Assistance Program. LWAP was administered by FEMA and was only active for six weeks. Around 110,000 Kansans qualified for that program and we are set to make the final payments next week."
14,000 people are currently owed benefits and are part of the backlog. That is an improvement from 25,000 people in August.