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Thousands of Hoosiers stuck waiting for unemployment benefits to be approved

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — In the midst of record unemployment numbers, there are thousands of people across Indiana waiting for the state to correct issues that are holding up their weekly benefits.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development confirmed Friday that just over 180,000 issues were pending in its system. Of those, around 3,000 were people waiting to receive six weeks or more of benefits.

Applicants for unemployment submit weekly vouchers through the state’s online UpLink system. Dozens of people have reported issues with their vouchers to the CBS4 Problem Solvers. Some said they received payment at first, then payments stopped due to issues flagged on their accounts. Others, like Lisa Pettigrew, had yet to receive any payments at all.

“You don’t know what the next day is going to bring, you know, you’re having to go to these food pantries, the stimulus money came in, but that’s gone because you’re catching up on rent, you’re catching up on other bills,” Pettigrew said Wednesday.

Montie Hall, a substitute teacher out of work since schools closed down, also said that he had not received any weekly payments yet.

“I have six vouchers in now and I have received zero (money),” Hall said. “I know of four other people at least who have not received any benefits and filed just about the same time I did.”

Other claimants said they were frustrated by the lack of options available to contact the department about issues. The phone system remains overwhelmed by callers, who report waiting hours on hold only to be disconnected or told that they must wait for a claims investigator to contact them.

“It makes it worse when you don’t have any point of contact, you have no light at the end of the tunnel,” claimant John Woodle said.

“I plan a whole day if I have to contact unemployment,” claimant Shelley Kattau said. “I just want to know, are they trying to do anything to help with the backlog?”

FOX59 took Hoosiers’ concerns to DWD Chief of Staff Josh Richardson, who said the state has tripled its number of claims investigators, up to around 300 people, to try to tackle the large number of claims issues.

“There’s nothing in us that thinks it’s okay for people to be waiting six or seven weeks, we want to do better than that,” Richardson said.

Richardson said a voucher can be held up for many different issues, including simple cases like a question being answered incorrectly, or more complicated cases that require an investigator to talk to an employer before approving benefits. Investigators have most recently been able to clear more than 25,000 issues in one week.

“It’s really sort of an exercise in triage, to try to figure out how we’re going to help the most people as quickly as we can and certainly those that have been waiting the longest,” Richardson said.

Richardson said the state does not plan to add a way for claimants with issues to contact investigators directly. He did think that numbers would decrease once the state began paying out federal benefits to contractors and gig workers, which started Friday.

There was some hope, too. On Thursday, Pettigrew finally saw her benefits come through after the issues were fixed on her account. Another applicant, Shawn Arnold, said he received a call this week from an investigator who was able to fix his account.

“I feel like I just pushed the world right off my shoulders,” Arnold said. “My wife’s been working but … we’re still struggling, it’s still hard.”

“It is a tough situation and we understand that and we’re just going to sort of keep our heads down and continue to push through these record levels of claims, and we’re going to try to set new records each week for the number of issues that we resolve,” Richardson said.

For more information about issues with unemployment benefits, visit the FAQ page on the department’s website at the link here.

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