INDIANAPOLIS, Ind — At the Statehouse you’ll see a massive sign saying Indiana is a “state that works.”
But take a walk down Mass Ave, and you’ll see plenty of other signs saying the opposite.
“It’s tough because I have two children at home. I have a wife at home, I’m trying to figure out how to keep food in my house, and now that they’re telling me this,” said Edward Good, who was let go from his job at Outback Steakhouse last week. “How do I get food? How do I provide?”
Good is one of nearly 54,000 Hoosiers who filed for unemployment just last week. That’s 52,000 more than the week before. He says he’s been approved but is still waiting to find out when he can get his benefits.
“Over these next few weeks, it’s going to be the real test on us and our staff who are all working in different conditions too, many remotely, to find out how responsive we can be,” said Indiana Department of Workforce Development Chief of Staff Josh Richardson.
Richardson says their phone lines have been overwhelmed the last few days. He’s directing those with questions to head to unemployment.in.gov and read the 30-page manual instead.
“In many cases, even working through that may be quicker and less painless for them than waiting on hold in a call center that’s working diligently to return everyone’s calls and to answer all the calls, but right now it’s just tough,” Richardson said.
If you’ve been laid off because of the virus, chances are you are eligible for unemployment. The payment is just under half of your wage, capped at $390 a week. While some of the requirements have been relaxed, those working in the “gig economy” might be out of luck.
“There have been a lot of rumors and a lot of belief and discussion at the federal level, that they’re looking at what looks like our traditional disaster unemployment assistance,” Richardson said in regard to gig workers. “If they go that route, there are some processes that bring those folks hope.”
There’s no question Richardson and his staff have a dramatic increase in caseload, with even more challenging work conditions. However, he still holds onto their normal timeline for response.
“There’s really no reason at this point to change what has been our standard line for the last few years, and that is 21 days after you file,” Richardson said about when payments will come. “That gives the opportunity for the waiting period to pass and it gives the opportunity for us to process the claim to collect all the information.”
Richardson says since most claims are related to the virus, the system should move quicker. But with bills now due, Good doesn’t have time for delays. He’s hoping his landlord will be understanding.
“I don’t know, I haven’t crossed that bridge yet,” Good said. “But it’s gonna come up because I pay rent the first of the month.”
He and thousands of others are now waiting for assistance, and for answers, after being blindsided by a pandemic no one was prepared for.
“They’re going to be facing a lot of questions, many of which we will not have the answers to,” Richardson said. “But I do hope that they will be able to trust that this is a system that will be responsive to their needs, that we’re working really hard here.”