KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday the state is beginning the process of looking for a new unemployment system.
The Kansas Department of Labor has been plagued with problems since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought financial hardship on thousands of Kansans, resulting in thousands more unemployment claims.
Kelly on Monday repeated that the state’s “stone age” system was ill-equipped to handle such a crisis.
She said the system, which was bought when Jimmy Carter was president, was only designed to administer one program — Kansas’ unemployment program.
With the pandemic, the federal government created three additional programs for states to administer to respond to COVID-19 hardships.
Kelly compared the coding necessary to implement those programs to “translating hieroglyphics into English.”
Her administration plans to start looking at bids for a new system by summer with the goal of beginning installation work by the end of the year.
The goal, Kelly said, is to address current and future problems and provide an overall better experience for Kansans already facing many of life’s stressors.
“Ensuring timely payments can only come with a new, modern system, one that will allow us to address today’s problems and ensure the next time we have once-in-a-century crisis that the state is prepared,” Kelly said.
Her proposed budget includes $37 million for modernization efforts, a cause Kelly said came to a halt under former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.
Kansas’ unemployment catastrophe is what happens when essential government services aren’t funded, Kelly said.
Kelly also said she is urging the state Senate to confirm acting KDOL Secretary Amber Shultz to her role.
Shultz would bring 25 years of IT and public service experience to the job. Kelly described her as the “right person at the right time."
Shultz, who joked that she was still in diapers when Kansas’ current unemployment system was installed, said first steps in the system’s replacement will be examination of feasibility and functionality requirements.
Projects such as these typically take three to five years, Shultz said, but state officials are trying to condense that timeline as much as possible.
Kelly said she is aware that such a timeline won’t provide immediate relief.
“I know the events of the past year have seemed overwhelming, frustrating and downright unfair,” Kelly said. “I hear you and I’m doing everything in my power to fix things now and ensure that never again do Kansans experience these obstacles to help.”
Both Kelly and Shultz said new security software the state launched to fight fraudulent claims has cut workload significantly.