Indiana Department of Workforce Development answers your questions about unemployment benefits

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – With the current surge in filings for unemployment, many of you have questions wondering why are you having difficulties filing and do you qualify.

WANE 15 spoke with Joash Richardson, Indiana Department of Workforce Development chief of staff to answer some of your questions.

The number on the website is not working, when I call it says “the number you have called is incorrect“. Why can’t I get in contact with anyone?

Richardson: To no surprise the call center is extremely high volume right now. So what happens is there are a certain number of agents that are available to handle the phone at any time. Even beyond agents, there are a certain amount of phone lines that are available, even for the people to get to a recording before they get to an agent.

Because the volume is so high, what’s happening is that sometimes the capacity exceeds the ability to answer those questions. We are working on that to make sure we expand it and provide valuable information to individuals as they call.

At this time it hasn’t been implemented yet, but I think it will be soon. The call volume is going to remain high for the foreseeable future and we are doing what we can to address that as well. We are augmented our staff by bringing on and training new individuals to answer. We are working to create more licensees to put more people on the other side of the phone. It’s going to be a challenge.

So, the system isn’t currently down?

Richardson: It’s not down, people are getting through. Our agents are talking to people every minute of the day as we work through this. The real question is when will our capacity meet the volume. The thing that prompts people to call most of the time is that they are interested in the status of their unemployment claim. Hopefully, as we process through some of these we will be able to relax some people’s nerves about that and maybe there won’t even be a need to call.

Why am I seeing a yellow triangle ?

Richardson: The yellow triangle is intended to be helpful, but I think it’s causing probably more anxiety. The yellow triangle simply means that there is some additional processing that the department has to do in order to determine their eligibility.

Essentially, it’s putting the person on notice that we may be contacting them for more information, it’s not going to be necessary in all cases. Some of those we’re able to resolve without contacting the person. All it means is that it’s essentially a warning that the department has to go through extra steps and that there is a little bit extra work happening behind the scenes.

They should answer their phone if they get calls from the department because we may have more questions that we need to ask. There is no need to contact us if you have a yellow triangle, we will contact you if necessary. It doesn’t even mean you won’t receive a payment if you don’t hear from us at all.

Will an additional $600 be added to unemployment in Indiana?

Richardson: Yes, we absolutely expect people that are eligible for UI claim and currently receiving benefits both will get the $600 additional. It will be retroactive likely to the time that the bill passed. So they will get sort of the back payments for the weeks and they were eligible between the passage of the bill and when we implemented it. From this point in time, we don’t have those instructions from the federal government. That’s not to say that we’re not working on it, we’re making some assumptions about the way that will need to be implemented and we are working on our IT system to get it ready. However, we won’t be able to move forward in doing until the department of labor makes the funding available to us and provide the instructions on how to do it. I do expect we are talking about weeks here, not talking about months but probably not talking about days either.

Should I still look for work if I was laid off due to the pandemic? One of the determining questions on the vouchers is “did you seek employment during this week”. It also states that it is a requirement to receive unemployment.

Richardson: Generally to be eligible for unemployment benefit, a person has to be actively seeking work each week to qualify. Through executive order the department has waived the requirement that individuals seek work. The truth is when they get to the question “Did you look for work this week”, neither answer will stop or prevent them from getting unemployment benefits. Say if they did search for work, they certainly can answer it that way. However, it is not a requirement right now. I understand it’s an Indiana law, but it’s been waived at this point. Even if they say no, it will not prevent them from receiving unemployment benefits as long as the executive order remains in effect that gives us the authority to waive that requirement.

What about the self-employed/independent contractors?

Richardson: We absolutely expect expanded eligibility to cover individuals who are self-employed or independent contractors. The issue is, it’s an entirely different program. It looks a lot like unemployment insurance and it’s going to be administered in most states the same agency that processes unemployment insurance. However, it’s a very different program that operates in a different way, with different qualifications. When people are coming into our system, they are using our system to file a state claim for unemployment benefits. That is not a problem, in a sense that it’s not going to make them ineligible later for benefits because they filed. In fact it’s advisable to file. What’s going to happen is when the federal government provides guidance to the states on how to implement that, one of the things that we are certain will be in that is the requirement that individuals applied for and redeemed ineligible for state benefits. We have people filling that out and they are seeing they are denied and they think there is something wrong with that process. That’s the way the system is supposed to work in this sense. They don’t have earnings and regular employment that was reported by an employer. They are getting slightly ahead of us and I understand why, high anxiety time and individuals that have been out of work. But until we get instructions on how to provide that pandemic unemployment assistance, really the only thing to do is to file that state claim and wait on the denial. What folks need to understand is that, filing now is not going to hurt them. Also, they don’t need to appeal their denial on a state claim. What they are going to have to do is continue to check in with us by checking our website. There will be an additional step or steps that are required to qualify for that pandemic unemployment assistance.

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