People still waiting weeks for unemployment money as state struggles to catch up

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tens of thousands of Hoosiers are still applying for unemployment benefits every week and while most people are getting their money without issue, some applicants are waiting weeks for their claims to be fixed and paid out.

Damico Ware thought he would start receiving benefits in mid-May, but instead he sees the word ‘disqualified’ on all of his claims.

“I’m not 100 percent, but I’m believing that I probably filled out the papers wrong. I can’t seem to get anybody to give me any help with it,” Ware said.

Ware, whose employer shut down permanently in April due to the pandemic, thinks he knows what is wrong but has been forced to wait for a claims investigator with Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development, which administers unemployment, to fix it.

“I need somebody in the department to actually go back on my file to help me correct the situation,” Ware said.

FOX59 began looking into long delays in unemployment payments this April, after receiving dozens of calls and emails from Hoosiers who saw errors on their online accounts but could not get any help to resolve them.

Shelley Kattau, who works in the hospitality industry and has been furloughed from her job, received payments at first but then saw her benefits go on hold for seven weeks because of issues with her vacation pay. Kattau finally got her money in early June, after a DWD call center employee escalated her issue to a supervisor.

“I think they were getting more knowledgeable people to answer the phone calls and be able to help us, or at least give us some answers,” Kattau said.

DWD Chief of Staff Josh Richardson confirmed Kattau’s belief, saying this week that employees are increasingly able to help with claims issues, as long as they are not overly complicated or involve a dispute with an employer.

“There still are people out there who have been waiting far too long and so we’re continuing to work around that, making sure that we get better every day,” Richardson said.

DWD increased its call center staff from 50 to 400 people and its claims investigators from 120 to 450 people, according to Richardson, with no plans to scale back any time soon.

The issues come when your case is flagged, like in Ware’s situation, and you need a claims investigator to approve the benefits. The wait for that investigator has increased to at least four weeks, but can be longer depending on the difficulty of the case, Richardson said.

“Sometimes they’re relatively easy issues that even newer staff can handle, so we can route those to someone that’s new, sometimes they’re much more complex and they require someone who’s been with us for far longer than what this coronavirus situation has lasted,” Richardson said.

The department has declined to release the number of Hoosiers waiting for a claims investigator, instead saying that around five percent of claims filed each week typically require investigation.

Ware and others tell FOX59 that they are still waiting and every week that goes by, the wait becomes more difficult.

“My bills are shooting through the roof, I just don’t know what to do,” Ware said.

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