New plan hopes to help Kansas unemployment website that’s been hammered by pandemic filers

It’s been a frustrating week for Kansas workers filing for unemployment.

According to the Kansas City Business Journal, more than 158,000 Kansas residents have filed for employment in the last month after losing work due to the coronavirus pandemic. And the skyrocketing numbers have battered the Kansas Department of Labor‘s underfunded and antiquated IT and phone system—the department’s website has crashed periodically this week and phone lines have beeped busy signals for the past month.

Angry Kansans have taken to the department’s Facebook page, complaining about website errors, being on hold for hours only to get hung up on, accounts being wiped clean with no reasoning and delay in benefits payments.

“We’re doing everything we can to boost the capacity of the system so that it works faster,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said in a press conference with the Kansas Department of Labor.

Due to budget cuts during the Gov. Sam Brownback era, the transition from the state’s old mainframe never happened, so the department is using the same system that was installed in the 1970s. Kelly said the department was working on improving its system right before the coronavirus came into the picture.

“None of this history pays the bills of Kansas families in need, but the current crisis does provide an important teachable moment for all elected officials—especially for those enacting a state budget,” she said.

To hopefully fix some issues, the department will implement a new system, which they call “gating”, where applicants file on specific days of the week according to the first letter of their last names. Last names starting with A-M are to be filed on Sunday afternoon, Tuesday or Thursday while N-Z are to be filed Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Saturdays are fair game for any applicant that forgot to file on their specified days.

Kansas is the latest on the bandwagon with gating, which has already shown significant improvements in states like New York and, most recently, Nevada and Kentucky.

Department of Labor Secretary Delia Garcia said in the press conference that her department is hiring about two dozen more employees to help respond to high demand and that training new department workers has been expedited from a six-months to three weeks.

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