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Modernization of the state’s unemployment IT system must be a top priority of post-COVID-19 recovery efforts. The volume of applicants is unprecedented and any system would be strained in these unconventional times. We certainly recognize that.

The Kansas Department of Labor’s efforts to process benefits, however, are greatly strained by technology that Secretary Delia Garcia has described as new when she was born.

The Department of Labor employees are working on a mainframe that’s seen Band-Aid improvements for decades and can’t handle much load. This aged system based on outmoded programming languages has necessitated the callback of retired employees as they best understand it.

We commend Garcia and the men and women at the Department of Labor who are working hard to process thousands of claims using an out-of-date system. Further, we thank the folks who have come back from retirement to assist and those who have joined the Labor team from other agencies to staff up an agency that needs all available resources.

Kansas is not alone in its challenges to process unemployment claims. Many states failed to modernize making it difficult to handle today’s demands even in normal circumstances. As resources are allocated from federal COVID-19 recovery packages, it is imperative that the Kansas Department of Labor receives money to purchase and implement the 21st century technology needed to support an unemployment insurance program.

A modernized system can lower costs and improve services. Unfortunately, it won’t happen overnight and Kansans need to recognize the limitations of the current system. Every person applying for benefits at will have to approach the process with extra patience.

Anyone with the ability to apply online is asked to do so. The department needs to have the phone lines open to those who don’t have internet services, are in the military, have moved to Kansas within the past 18 months or don’t speak English as their primary language.

Additionally, if you file a claim and it’s denied but you believe yourself eligible for the benefits, it’s important to continue to file every week. This will ensure that if your appeal for benefits is granted, you’ll receive them for every week of eligibility.

Garcia has made herself available for countless interviews and video conferences with the business community to answer questions and provide guidance. In each dialogue, she reminds the public that we will get through this in partnership together. We know her team is working hard to help every Kansan needing these benefits and doing so as fast as they can with the tools they have.

Let’s remember to practice extra kindness and patience, especially while submitting claims, and when this is over, let’s hold elected officials accountable for funding the modernization of our unemployment insurance program.