TOPEKA (AP) — A top Kansas Department of Labor official isn’t disputing a legislative audit’s finding that hiring hundreds of workers during the coronavirus pandemic didn’t appear to result in the agency answering more calls from unemployed workers seeking benefits.

But Deputy Labor Secretary Peter Brady said Wednesday that calls to the department became more complicated and more time-consuming as the federal government created six programs to help workers after COVID-19 restrictions on businesses in the spring of 2020 caused unemployment to surge. 

Brady made his comments during a meeting of a council overseeing a modernization of the department’s unemployment computer system. He also said some of the 500 workers hired by the department sometimes were diverted to resolving problems with individual claims so that people would get benefits. 

Legislative auditors released their report last week, prompting criticism of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration from Republican lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the state still is trying to pin down the cost of fraudulent unemployment claims. 

The legislative audit estimated that the state could have paid roughly $700 million in fraudulent claims during 2020 and the first two months of 2021. The Department of Labor believes the best estimate for now is less than $400 million.

“We’re not really working with precise numbering here,” said state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat.

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