From JOHN HANNA, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Assurances from labor officials that new security protocols are blocking thousands of fraudulent attempts to access the Kansas unemployment insurance system every hour did little to allay concerns Wednesday by Republican lawmakers who fear the state is making millions of dollars loses to COVID-19 pandemic scammers.
The State Department of Labor reported that it blocked more than 649,000 attempts by internet bots or human scammers to log into its unemployment system within 34 hours of the system ending Tuesday morning. The department shut down the system on Saturday afternoon to add new security protocols after a flurry of fraudulent performance claims.
Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature have been criticizing Democratic Governor Laura Kelly and her administration for months over problems in the Department of Labor in providing benefits to workers who have lost their jobs in the pandemic. You and department officials attribute the fighting to a computer system that is decades old.
“I will not deny that it has been a tough road and that many Kansans are frustrated with the inadequacy of the 40, 45-year-old system,” Kelly said during a Statehouse press conference on COVID-19.
GOP lawmakers have increasingly focused on fraudulent claims, saying they fear employers who provide at least part of the benefits for their former employees will be eligible for false claims if the fraud is not detected. The department also sends forms to individuals letting them know they owe income taxes on past unemployment benefits. This is a headache for people who learn that false claims have been made on their behalf.
Before restarting the unemployment system, the department said it intercepts about 2,300 fraudulent claims a day – or about 96 an hour. However, based on the latest data, almost 19,400 fraudulent login attempts per hour have been stopped since restarting – or just over five per second.
“How many actually got through is my concern,” said Sean Tarwater, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, a Stilwell Republican.
GOP lawmakers have been at odds with Kelly almost since COVID-19 hit the state in early March 2020 for closing non-essential stores and trying to require the wearing of masks, and Republicans have signaled that what Seeing her as her flaws will be a key issue as she seeks a second term in 2022. In the past few weeks, as the number of new COVID-19 cases has declined, the GOP’s criticism has focused on the Ministry of Labor and problems with the introduction of vaccines.
In Kansas, an average of 914 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases were reported per day in the seven days through Wednesday. For the first time, the seven-day moving average has been below 1,000 since October 28, according to the Ministry of Health. The state has added 2,247 cases to its pandemic record since Monday, bringing the total to 278,915 cases, nearly one for every 10 of its 2.9 million residents.
The health department has increased the total number of pandemics by 86 deaths since Monday, which equates to 3,895. Kansas recorded an average of 25 additional COVID-19 deaths per day in the seven days through Wednesday.
However, the health department said on Wednesday evening that it had confirmed a case of a contagious variant of coronavirus in Ellis County, northwest Kansas, which was first identified in the UK. Public health officials fear this could lead to an increase in new hospitalizations and deaths.
Kelly issued a statewide order in late March to curb the spread of COVID-19 and unemployment claims rose. They fell before rising again from late November, fueling concerns that many of the claims were fake.
Julie Menghini, the government’s director of government affairs, told lawmakers in an email Tuesday evening that she had sent out most of the forms this year telling people they owed income taxes on unemployment benefits. She said the department made “every effort” to ensure the forms were not given to anyone whose names were forged on their behalf.
“Despite our best efforts, and given the historical level of forms issued and the high level of fraudulent activity, we expect a small universe of victims to falsely receive these forms as compensation that they never received,” Menghini wrote.
But the GOP lawmakers said they get complaints from people who get the forms, who also can’t get to the department’s dedicated fraud call center.
University of Kansas journalism professor Teri Finneman received notice that she owed taxes on $ 1,500 in unemployment benefits that she had never received. She has repeatedly tried to call the Department of Labor and written a letter in frustration last week.
Finneman, who has covered the government in other states as a former political reporter, said she had never seen anything like it from any state agency. She said the fact that Kansas ran an agency on a decades-old computer system was “completely inexcusable.”
“It is extremely frustrating how many Kansans are affected,” she said in an email to The AP.
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