KDOL working to replace decades-old unemployment system, clear backlog

TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) – The Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) is taking the next step to modernize the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) system. Gov. Laura Kelly made the announcement Tuesday stating that the agency issued a request for proposal (RFP) to replace the more than 40-year-old computer system.

“When I learned that the previous Administration abandoned efforts to modernize the state’s unemployment computer system in 2011, I immediately tasked the agency with reviving its modernization plans,” said Gov. Kelly. “Unfortunately, the pandemic hit, and the antiquated technology was unable to keep up with the record volume of claims. Today, we are taking a major step in fixing our broken system. We will finish what other Administrations’ failed to do.”

The governor’s office said KDOL staff traveled to states with modernized unemployment systems to learn how Kansas could build a more efficient system. Over the past year, a specialized team has worked to complete and expedite the modernization plan, incorporating the findings and best practices from these states.

“The RFP process is the next major step in our effort to modernize,” said Secretary Amber Shultz. “We plan to expedite this process as much as possible, while taking care to engage the business community, workers, and legislators. Over the past year, we have been able to stabilize our underlying systems which were not equipped to handle the volume of pandemic-related claims or the complexity of the new federal programs. The stabilization efforts worked and will help to speed modernization implementation once a vendor is selected.”

When Governor Kelly took office in 2019, one of her top priorities for the Department of Labor was to modernize the agency’s mainframe. The agency was forced to temporarily suspend those efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, the system has been stabilized to pay out traditional state unemployment program and new federal benefit programs. Since March 15, 2020, KDOL has paid out over 4.2 million weekly claims totaling over $2.8 billion between regular unemployment and the federal pandemic programs.

The Kansas Legislature is considering Governor Kelly’s $37.5 million budget request to replace KDOL’s aging system.

“We are on target to modernize this antiquated system,” said Governor Kelly. “While we navigate the procurement process, we also need the legislature to fund this critical upgrade. It will not be cheap—fixing a system that has been neglected for 40-plus years never is—but failing to act is not an option. I will continue working with the legislature to get this critical project done. We owe it to the people of Kansas.”

With the computer upgrade, KDOL is working to clear a backlog of 12,000 Kansans waiting for unemployment benefits. The backlog is one of many ongoing issues left behind from the department’s outdated system. Over the course of the pandemic, the agency has processed payments on systems from the 1970s. The project to upgrade the system will take anywhere from three to five years to finish, but once it’s done, it will put the state in a better position to send out payments.

KDOL also recently added 500 representatives to help take calls and resolve issues. The issues won’t be resolved overnight, but the goal of the project is to never again be in the position with thousands of Kansans not receiving payments on time.

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