DWD commissioner admits agency must go deeper to resolve a backlog of claims

Gettyimages/glegorly
Published:
Updated:

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — The state of Indiana says it's paid out $1.4 billion in unemployment benefits. A billion of it from the federal government.

Still thousands of Hoosiers facing financial disaster haven't received one dime.

The commissioner of Workforce Development admits his agency must go deeper to address the backlog.

When industry and business shut down across Indiana in March, state leaders promised enough unemployment payments to fill in the gaps.

Now two months later, dozens of laid-off workers say they've been lost in the system and are begging for help.

Andy wrote to 13 Investigates and said, "I need HELP with Unemployment. I have been without unemployment benefits for seven weeks."

Cassie Maners sent a similar request for help. She applied for both Indiana unemployment insurance benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and has been waiting for an unemployment check for eight weeks.

"I've been waiting since March 22 to hear something. Every time I call them it's always a different story. Nobody knows what they're talking about," she said. The last time she called she said there was a question about whether she voluntarily quit.

Maners told 13 Investigates she had worked for an automobile parts manufacturer in Hartford City for two years.

The entire company shut down operations in March as a result of COVID-19, yet her unemployment claims have lagged in the system.

"All it says is 'Open'. It gives me a weekly benefit amount. It gives me how much I can draw and all that. But it just has no determination," she explained.

A call center set up by the Department of Workforce Development to answer questions like hers is often jammed.

The agency has logged 350,000 calls or "interactions" in the first two weeks of May alone.

Workers tell 13 Investigates they've been left on hold for four-and-a-half hours on some days.

Their emails reflect their growing frustration.

Andy wrote: "WHAT DO I NEED TO DO IN ORDER TO GET MY BENEFITS I PAID INTO???"

"It's an epic fail," Maners said.

13 Investigates asked Fred Payne, the DWD Commissioner about the backlog.

"Right now we are prioritizing the claims that were filed the earliest, so we are working our way back to the earliest claims to address those issues," he responded.

According to Payne, "We have resolved much more than 20-percent of the claims." But Payne did not say how much more. 13 Investigates received updated numbers showing up to 80 percent are resolved.

Payne said DWD's automated system is now resolving 270,000 issues weekly. In some cases, that means the claim can be processed. But in other cases, more issues still have to be resolved.

And Payne acknowledges there are some unemployment questions the automated system just can't answer.

"Food is starting to run out," said Maners, choking back tears as she talked about the impact of the delay on her life.

"How are you supposed to go back to work if you don't have gas to go to work? You know, you can't," she said, reminding the state that what she's asking for is not a handout.

"It's not like they're just giving us money. We paid into it. That's our money, you know. And when you need it, you can't get it," she said.

It's important to point out that according to the Indiana DWD claim book, "Unemployment benefits are paid by employer premiums. No money is deducted from your paycheck or taxes to pay for unemployment insurance benefits. Under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act of 1939, employers are required to pay premiums that pay for the cost of administering Unemployment Insurance and employment service programs at the state and federal levels."

Commissioner Payne said individual staff members will have to address the older cases dealing with deductible income, employment status and "voluntary quit" determinations.

In the meantime, workers tell 13 Investigates all they can do is continue to file the necessary vouchers for payment each week.

DWD also experienced delays with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Benefit. Scott Olson, the agency’s director explained what caused the problems.

"DWD instituted a data match with the Indiana Dept. of Revenue to speed up the process of paying PUA and reduce the burden on individuals. For those that did NOT file their 2019 taxes or who were married filing jointly, we could not use this information," Olson said.

"We did pay them at the minimum level to ensure they could receive payments. This also allowed them to receive the additional $600 in federal PUC money. Those individuals can and are sending in their income information now to get paid. We have paid 60k of the 68k that have applied for PUA so far. The other 8,000 have issues that needs to be resolved," he said

To contact the state about your COVID-19 job loss or layoff, click here.

Filed under: