KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas Department of Labor said Friday there's been an exciting development with the state's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, or PUA.
The program, which is funded through the CARES Act, pays unemployment insurance benefits to those who wouldn't typically qualify for it such as self-employed and gig workers.
Acting Kansas Secretary of Labor Ryan Wright said his department has been able to build out a key piece of the system to get payments out to the claims. The update affects about 4,600 of the 20,000 claims currently in the backlog.
"Keep in mind this is an entirely new unemployment system," Wright said. "This isn't just a new program that we could stand up, so it's required a lot of intensive computer programming and timing."
Wright said claimants, many of whom have likely been waiting to receive PUA payments since the beginning of the pandemic, may get some long-delayed relief soon. He blamed the need for additional oversight on PUA claims compared to regular claims for the struggles.
"For these people that haven't been paid out, there's something more that needs to be added," Wright said. "It's not just a straight forward claim."
Wright said the department is working to notify affected claimants, so they can access their profile in KDOL system and update any needed documents.
"Folks don't have to wait for us to notify them," Wright said. "They can actually log in right now to their system online and, as soon as they upload those documents, we will adjudicate that and get them paid."
Wright said claimants should keep in mind that eligibility requirements still apply for the program, but those eligible could receive 40 weeks of payments, though they will need to file for each week.
"It's not an insignificant lift of paperwork that needs to be added to verify for each week, but we're already paying people out for the full time that they've had those claims," Wright said.
He noted that determining PUA eligibility isn't terribly complicated, so the Labor Department should be able to get payments out quickly after the adjudication process is complete.
While the update represents long-awaited good news for still waiting on PUA payments, the nine-month delay and overall struggles the department has encountered remain frustrating.
"There's people that are really suffering, it's Christmastime, people have children, it's really unacceptable," Bridgette Jordan of Kansas City, Missouri, said as she awaits five weeks of extended benefits. "We shouldn't have to grovel for money that we're entitled to get."
Jordan said it's difficult to believe the department when it says it's making progress.
"They just keep telling us when we get to it, but that's not how unemployment should work," Jordan said. "It should be there when people need it and it should be there on time."