Archive for Thursday, February 26, 2009

Leavenworth County senator emphasizes changes taking place at unemployment office

February 26, 2009

Imagine you’re responsible for producing widgets for a manufacturing company where product demand has been stable for several years and that demand suddenly doubles. Now substitute a first-time claim for unemployment for the fictitious widget, and you can see the challenges the Kansas Department of Labor is facing since a significant upturn in layoffs has hit workers.

The agency received 37,482 first-time claims for unemployment this past December, a 133 percent increase over the 16,071 first-time claims for unemployment received in the previous month and an approximately 105 percent increase over the 18,212 first-time claims received a year ago in December 2007.

Not surprisingly, the agency initially struggled in processing the deluge. But the department has subsequently implemented a number of changes in its efforts to be more responsive to Kansans filing unemployment claims. This has included the hiring of 30 additional customer service representatives as well as extending hours of operation. Starting Monday, Feb. 9, the Unemployment Insurance Contact Center is now operating from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Claimants can also file their initial and weekly claims online at uibenefits.dol.ks.gov, Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is a temporary change in hours to deal with the current influx of claims. Since implementing these changes, the Contact Center has doubled the number of calls it can handle in a day, and average wait times have been cut in half.

The department has also undertaken significant changes for handling extended benefits by establishing a separate Emergency Unemployment Compensation Processing Center to process all applications for extended benefits. In the past three weeks, the department has eliminated the backlog of Emergency Unemployment Compensation applications and is now processing applications for extended benefits as they come in.

Even after adding staff and extending hours the telephone wait times can still be long. The agency recommends that first-time claims be filed online. Once the initial claim is filed, then continuing weekly claims can be filed through a dedicated automated telephone system, which is easier to use than the main Contact Center call line. It is available midnight to 6 a.m. and noon to midnight Sunday; anytime Monday; 7 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Friday; and 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday. You can reach the automated continuing weekly claim telephone system at one of the following phone numbers: Kansas City Weekly Claims Line, (913) 287-6913; Topeka Weekly Claims Line, (785) 296-4337; Wichita Weekly Claims Line, (316) 269-0633.

I can be reached at (785) 296-7372 (daytime) or (785) 865-2786 (evenings). My e-mail address is Tom.Holland@senate.ks.gov. Also, if you would like to be added to the mailing list of my e-mail newsletter, which is published every two weeks during the session, please send me your e-mail address.

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