OPINION

Focus should be modernizing Kansas Department of Labor system, not politicizing issue to score cheap points

The Editorial Advisory Board
The Kansas Department of Labor has struggled with an antiquated mainframe system.

The Kansas Department of Labor has faced some very public shortcomings as a result of the pandemic.

The coronavirus exposed how ill-equipped and unprepared the state truly was and still is for a labor crisis. Especially when it comes to technology.

The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl recently reported the core of the state's unemployment backend is a mainframe originally rolled out in 1977.

The system requires understanding a suite of complex codes, which show potential problems in a claimant's file, outline the employment history, how many claims have been filed and whether they were paid out.

Additionally, the agency rushed to deal with a historic flood of unemployed Kansans and had a series of issues, including an attempt to claw back $7 million in benefit payments mistakenly doled out to 4,500 claimants. The attempt caused many of the accounts to overdraft in the process.

It’s a mess, but so is its history.

Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius attempted to modernize the system in the early 2000s. When Gov. Sam Brownback took over, his administration halted the project. Brownback and his Republican peers passed legislation making it harder for people to get benefits.

It would be easy enough to blame Brownback. He’s persona non grata in the Wheat State to some. The whole dogma of Brownback and his allies was linked to make social services harder to access. They set up our social safety nets to fail.

But it’s election season and Republicans strategists like a challenge, so to them, the buck stops with Gov. Laura Kelly.

Kim Borchers, Brownback’s former deputy chief of staff, is recruiting people for campaign ads about KDOL. Essentially, she’s using the mess she helped create against the governor for political gain.

Why Borchers might not be a declared surrogate for Kansas Attorney General/presumptive Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt, we can all see what she’s doing.

We hope Schmidt has the common sense not to campaign on such nonsense. His party clearly has some blame in this morass.

From where we stand, most of the lawmakers in Topeka have had a hand in this crisis at KDOL. They have had plenty of opportunities in recent decades to address the antiquated system.

Let’s stop trying to score political points. How about instead we focus our attention on fixing the department. Let's get unemployed Kansans the benefits they need and deserve.