TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)– Governor Laura Kelly announced Monday that she authored and delivered a letter to Congressional leaders urging the federal government to take action in addressing an issue that’s burdened the state’s labor department since the start of the pandemic.
Gov. Kelly joined state leaders in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in asking Congress to provide immediate funding for states to fast-track IT modernization and provide a permanent source of funding to ensure states are prepared for future crises.
“We’re asking the feds to provide more so we can go forward with the modernization, but then you don’t build these things and let them go. You’ve got to maintain and upgrade on a regular basis,” Gov. Kelly said during a press conference.
The state’s unemployment office has struggled with payment delays and a high volume of fraud. State leaders have said this points back to a decades-old computer system the department’s using, that’s in desperate need of an upgrade.
According to a national workforce agency, Kansas is one of 30 states that needs to update their computer system to ensure a timely payment of benefits. Acting secretary for the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL), Amber Schultz, said the state has about 12,000 people in the backlog for PUA, one of the federal unemployment programs.
Schultz detailed the state unemployment office’s past use of funds, which were allocated for modernization in the early 2000’s. Schultz said the funds totaled about $47 million.
“Several key components of the system were modernized, following phase detail designs, functionality requirements and engineering. But, just as the agency started to check off some of their key component successes. The Brownback administration abruptly ended the modernization project in 2011,” Schultz said.
The governor said the project came to an immediate halt when the state’s former labor secretary in 2011 took office.
The state’s current efforts to fund the I.T. modernization project include the allocation of $37.5 million in this year’s budget.
According to the state’s unemployment office, modernization projects like this, usually take about three to five years, but they’re trying to get it done as soon as possible to help struggling Kansans.
Other state leaders have set the project’s deadline for completion to 2022.
“Right now, we need to support our unemployed workers in every way possible – but we need collaboration across state and federal governments to deliver results for Kansans. Increased federal funding to fast-track modernization will help KDOL and my administration with the immediate, upcoming challenges and protect future generations from crises of this nature. I look forward to working with our state and federal partners to deliver solutions to Kansans as quickly as possible.”
Governor Laura Kelly
To view a copy of the letter to Congress, click here.
To view a copy of the letter sent to Kansas’ Congressional delegation, click here.
To view a map detailing the status of state UI modernization projects, click here.