Topeka A state senator is criticizing the Department of Human Resources for plans to shut down three toll-free telephone lines for people filing unemployment benefits.
However, a high-ranking department official is defending its plans, saying the agency is replacing obsolete equipment with a more efficient system.
The department plans to abandon equipment for handling calls in Hutchinson, Pittsburg and Salina. The department also has such equipment in Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita.
Some people who claim unemployment will then have to make weekly calls that cost between 30 cents and 50 cents. However, the agency estimates only 2.5 percent of claimants live in the Hutchinson, Pittsburg and Salina calling areas.
After filing initial claims for unemployment, people must call the department once a week to certify that they remain unemployed but are looking for a job and ready to work.
In a Nov. 15 letter to Sen. Jim Barone, Deputy Secretary Roger Aeschliman said budget cuts in recent years have led the agency to look for alternatives to replacing the aging equipment.
Aeschliman said Thursday it will be more cost-effective for the department to have fewer but more powerful computers to handle calls than more smaller ones. As a result, some people no longer would have access to a toll-free number.
He said the department also has compensated for doing away with the toll-free service by processing unemployment claims faster.
But Barone, D-Frontenac, said the decision favors urban areas over rural ones and places a new burden on poor Kansans.
"This is a pretty glaring example of a state agency picking on people facing hard times or in unlucky situations," Barone said.