KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansans continue to criticize the Kansas Department of Labor's handling of the spike in unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wichita resident Paula Cheatum said she was fired from her job in February, not because of COVID-19, but she is still feeling the effects of the pandemic.
She filed an appeal with the Kansas Department of Labor in March after being told she did not qualify for benefits. The department closed its appeals office shortly after and left Cheatum stuck in limbo.
"It was a real gut punch to be taught that we didn't count like everybody else did," Cheatum said.
After four months without income or unemployment benefits, Cheatum said she's had to borrow money from friends and family to pay her bills.
"When I looked into getting local resources to help with utility bills and things, because I wasn't let go because of COVID-19, I didn't qualify for any of that, so I've had nothing," Cheatum said.
Now months later, Cheatum had her appeal hearing and won, but she is hesitant to believe the money is coming.
"It's a little disbelief at the moment," Cheatum said. "I've waited so long, and it's been such an emotional and physically and mentally trying time that I'm just hoping that something doesn't come up to take it away from me again."
Cheatum said she doesn't understand why she had to wait so long to get the assistance for which she qualified.
"I would really like the state to take a look at how they handled this whole thing," Cheatum said. "I don't see how in the world they could justify closing that office and leaving us out here hanging all that time."
As she awaits her first payment, Cheatum is encouraging others to file appeals as well, saying they need to fight for the money they're owed.
"It's never going to hurt just to go in and present your side of things," she said.
The Kansas Department of Labor did not respond to a 41 Action News request for comment.