As the Kansas Labor Department heads for overhaul, lawmakers approve greater surveillance

A bill allowing the Kansas Parliament to increase surveillance of the Kansas Department of Labor is heading to Governor Laura Kelly’s desk as Kansas begins modernizing its long-awaited outdated technology.

The new KDOL Oversight Board will be responsible for investigating fraudulent payments, adjusting payment scales, and injecting federal dollars into the state’s depleted unemployment fund.

After passing individual bills last month, Kansas House and the Senate approved the compromise on Friday.

The bill comes after a year of crisis within the state’s unemployment agency. The COVID-19 pandemic made the agency the fourth secretary within a year after an unprecedented number of unemployment claims. The state’s 1970s computer system buckled because staff were in a hurry to launch two federal programs approved last year.

Thousands of Kansas have complained that they received the unemployment allowance late or not at all.

“Once this system is implemented, that situation will never happen in the next few years,” said Senator Rob Olson, Republican of Olathe.

Kansas Senator Rob Olson, R-Oreisa, left speaks with Senator Ron Ryckman Sr., R-Mead, during a debate at Topeka's State Capitol last month. Olson has played an important role in drafting the final version of the bill, which aims to modernize the state's unemployment system and have legislators monitor technology upgrades for the Kansas Department of Labor.

Kansas Senator Rob Olson, R-Oreisa, left talks to Senator Ron Ryckman Sr., R-Mead, during a discussion at Topeka’s State Capitol last month. Olson plays an important role in drafting the final version of the bill, which aims to modernize the state’s unemployment system and have legislators monitor technology upgrades for the Kansas Department of Labor.

on Tuesday, Announced by the Ministry of Labor We have started requesting proposals for new information technology systems.

Secretary of Labor Amber Schultz said in an interview Tuesday that the agency hopes to begin installing the system in 2023.

“This will be a much more user-friendly interface,” Schultz said. “Some of the frustration I’m seeing right now from the user experience is that there are so many cobblestone systems. Mainframes in the 1970s, slightly modernized technology in the early 2000s, from the early 2010s. There is a technology that seems to be a little more modern. “

If the governor signs the bill, the panel of lawmakers and stakeholders will have a say in finding and installing institutions for new IT processes. The bill allows legislative leaders to set a deadline for completion.

The Unemployment Modernization and Improvement Council, drafted by the bill, will audit the unemployment insurance system, recommend changes, and work with the Secretary of Labor to plan a significant increase in claims, among other things. The Commission will carry out the modernization process “in consultation” with the Secretary of Labor, signed by the Governor within 14 days of the bill being passed.

“I think this will get a lot of attention, and I think the implementation will be successful,” said Senator Tom Holland of the Baldwin Democratic Party.

Despite concerns about possible deadlines, Schultz said he was looking forward to working with the state legislature.

“We’re really excited,” Schultz said. “We are willing to work together and get the best possible system in Kansas. The more partners we work with, the more stakeholders we have. Will be better. “

In a statement on Friday, Governor Laura Kelly thanked the state legislature for approving the bill.

“This law will ensure that we complete the work we started and replace the state’s outdated unemployment system. The passage of this law is ours against businesses and workers in Kansas. We make our commitments clear and ensure that we are prepared for any challenges we may face in the future, “says Kelly.

In addition to overseeing the modernization process, the bill takes steps to remedy the damage caused by fraudulent claims over the past year.

The Kansas Ministry of Labor predicts that fraudulent claims have paid $ 300 million since March 2020. Bipartisan legislative audits have brought this figure closer to $ 600 million. A third-party independent audit is scheduled to be completed in September.

The bill injects $ 250 million in federal relief dollars into the state’s unemployment trust fund, securing an additional $ 250 million for use if independent audits show more fraudulent payments. I will.

“It was always our intention and our promise to the business community to complete them with all these dollars they paid to the account. It was because we didn’t see them right. “I let go,” said Sean Tarwater, Republican Stilwell.

The bill also allows individuals with fraudulent claims in their names to report unemployment fraud directly to the local sheriff’s office rather than contacting the Ministry of Labor.

“Sometimes people struggled to get to the Ministry of Labor, so it’s just another place,” Olson said.

The council needs to investigate the impact of fraudulent claims and how they occur.

A new system was installed earlier this year to prevent further fraud.

“We estimate that we have prevented about 500,000 fraudulent claims, totaling about $ 22 billion,” Schultz said. “Scams are not only a Kansas issue, but a national issue.”

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