From the quiet hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram. Arkansas is one of many states where the process of getting unemployment benefits has slowed down, because so many cases are incomplete or fraudulent.
The Division of Workforce Services is in charge of processing unemployment claims. As of last week, the agency had received more than 210,000 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.
PUA benefits are temporary payments to people who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment benefits, perhaps because they are self-employed or because they haven’t worked long enough.
They also can be paid to individuals whose regular unemployment benefits have been exhausted. Since the pandemic began, applications for unemployment have skyrocketed, and the legislature has been closely monitoring the performance of Workforce Services. The agency has been overwhelmed, to the point where its computer system needed a major overhaul and additional employees.
Because of efficiency measures, the list of applications is getting shorter. However, it is getting shorter much too slowly, because staff is red-flagging a greater number of questionable applications. The director of Workforce Services told legislators that almost 47,000 applications are under review, or incomplete. That number keeps going up.
When an application is incomplete, staff calls the applicant or contacts them in person, to determine if they’re eligible. Of course, in some cases the application is fraudulent.
The bottom line is that it is still taking too long for applications to be completed, which means it is taking longer for qualified applications to be approved or denied.
It adds to the delay when staff spends time and resources retrieving any money that has been paid to ineligible recipients.
The division relies on tax records to check the work history of applicants. In states without income taxes, they have been swamped with fraudulent claims because it is harder to verify an applicant’s work history.
Arizona had to weed out a million applications that may be fraudulent. In Pennsylvania it was relative simple for officials to reject unemployment claims from a group of prison inmates.
Washington state and Hawaii have received bogus claims for hundreds of millions of dollars. If you have a legitimate claim for unemployment benefits, get your application in as soon as possible and make sure it is complete. Workforce Services is doing its best under difficult circumstances.
If you’re an employer, it’s your taxes that are keeping the system in sound financial shape. Workforce Services, with oversight and support from the legislature, is serious about protecting the system that you pay for.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.