Cover Photo: Sign at the Kansas Department of Labor building (Source: The Capitol-Journal)
By Brian Martel
Since the beginning of the economic crisis and subsequent COVID-19 pandemic, the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) has been inundated by unemployment requests as the US saw a record number of people without work not seen since the Great Depression. KDOL workers have reported being overworked and many unemployment requests going unfulfilled. Meanwhile, ruling class officials have sought preferential treatment from KDOL for their family and friends’ own unemployment requests.
Many in Kansas have yet to receive unemployment benefits despite going months without a job, some have spent hours each day trying to reach KDOL to no avail. At times, the frustration has boiled over into protests at the Kansas capitol and KDOL headquarters, including one woman carrying out a hunger strike to recoup over $10,000 in lost unemployment benefits.
Even before the economic crisis, KDOL was already understaffed, and although call volume increasing to tenfold, no new staff were hired. Eventually, KDOL began to hire contract workers at a lower pay and without proper benefits and training, but even an influx of new employees could not solve their problems. This, along with other technical difficulties caused by an outdated system and a lack of servers, made it nearly impossible for people to claim desperately needed benefits during the height of the economic crisis. Governor Laura Kelly just announced this week that KDOL would be making sweeping changes to modernize its system one full year after jobless claims skyrocketed to unseen levels.
KDOL have themselves acknowledged that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program exposes anyone who has ever been in the Kansas unemployment system to identity theft, apparently being hastily cobbled together without regard for the people seeking assistance.
In an interview with ruling-class media, KDOL addressed rumors that government officials were creating a ‘priority list’ for their friends and family, claiming it did not exist. One former employee, however, said “I can tell you for a fact that’s a lie. They do have one.” saying the list began when they “started getting contacted by the Governor’s Office and the Legislators’ Offices,” about friends, relatives, and voters who were unable to receive unemployment. Those claimants with close ties to politicians were put on the top of the list.
All of these issues have resulted in a large drop in claims being filed or paid out, with many going weeks or months without the benefits needed to pay for basic neccessities.
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