EDITORIALS

Editorial: Instead of placing blame, fix Kansas' unemployment system problems

By The Editorial Advisory Board

Dismal.

There’s no other way to describe the situation around the state unemployment system.

Some Kansans are still waiting to receive their rightful benefits. Other have been victims of fraudulent claims. In the meantime, the state appears to be working hard to fix the problems, but they’ve been working hard for the better part of a year now.

So how do we move on from here? And what’s the solution?

Four things need to be said, we think. The first is that we’re facing an unprecedented situation. It’s become cliche to say this by now, but it remains true. We’re not just working through a pandemic. We’re also dealing with massive economic disruption. And both have continued for month after month. No one was prepared for this a year ago, and the situation continues to evolve in unexpected ways.

Second, the state’s computer systems were woefully unprepared for the task. Gov. Laura Kelly has assigned much of the blame to the administration of former Gov. Sam Brownback and lack of investment in Department of Labor information technology infrastructure. We’re not going to doubt that account. But why has it taken so long for the problem to be fixed? And why were anti-fraud measures put in place only in January?

Third, the Legislature is right to address this issue. Their constituents are rightly raising a ruckus. Senators and representatives want to be seen doing something about it. But everyone at the Statehouse should take a deep breath and look at the situation rationally. Is this an opportunity to make Kansas government work for its residents? Or is it an opportunity to score political points off a Democratic governor?

Finally, and most importantly, all of the above is really just noise for people in need.

If you’ve lost your job and are looking for assistance, the debate of politicians is gibberish. Talk of computer systems and updates is meaningless prattle.You don’t care who does it or how, you just want the problem fixed. This is why we’re seeing protests and discontent about the Department of Labor. Folks want solutions, and they want them yesterday.

The time for talk is past. The governor, her administration and the Legislature need to fix the problem. Once people are receiving their unemployment checks, and once fraud is eradicated, then we can hurl accusations and blame aplenty. Let’s focus on fixes.

Tears roll down Re'Nae Pherigo face as she sits outside of the Kansas Department of Labor Tuesday afternoon explaining why she's on her second day of a hunger strike. Pherigo, a Wellington resident and mother of three, sent a letter to KDOL explaining her frustration in filing for unemployment benifits claims. "You WILL hear me if this is the last thing I do," Pherigo said in her letter.