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Held-up PUA unemployment claims being processed, but unclear how many applicants have been paid

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
CoronavirusEconomy
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State officials say a call center working on adjudicating unemployment insurance claims for self-employed and independent workers is up and running, but could not say how many individuals have had payments come through.

The adjudication center started taking calls on Monday, although some claimants have reported long holds, hangups and other troubles in reaching operators to resolve pending issues. In its first two weeks, nearly 80,000 people had filed initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which serves people who would traditionally be ineligible for regular state benefits because of their employment arrangement.

“The PUA call center continues to experience high volume of calls but is providing answers to questions and assisting claimants with filing claims,” said Rosa Mendez, spokeswoman for the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). “Today, PUA adjudication began reviewing and resolving PUA eligibility issues presently holding back payments and will continue to address adjudication issues on claims in the order they are received.”

As of Friday, nearly $36 million has been paid out to PUA claimants in base benefits and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation — the $600 weekly payments provided on top of basic payouts. DETR Director Heather Korbulic couldn’t say how many individuals have gotten paid since money started flowing last Wednesday, although she said “more and more payments are going out daily.”

“We're currently working with our vendor to try to determine that exact number. We can see how many weeks have been paid out. We can see the number of claims that are pending. But we haven't been able to determine exactly how many folks are being paid on those claims,” she told lawmakers on the Interim Finance Committee. “As soon as I get that number I will provide it. The vendor knows how interested and insistent we're being about getting it.”

One claimant who hasn’t been paid yet is Henderson resident Jann Hendry, who photographs conventions but has been unable to work since March 11, after convention business evaporated. Her application is held up by what the system has deemed “unresolved issues” including “lack of work” and “PUA - Other Program Eligibility.”

On Monday, she called the PUA adjudication center to determine the source of the problem. For the first half-dozen tries, she was on hold for 30 minutes and then the system disconnected her, she said. On subsequent tries, it simply told her to call back later.

Hendry, 64, said she’s in the dark about what the holds on her claim mean, and how she should respond to messaging from DETR that indicates claim decisions could take up to 21 days. Is she supposed to wait or jam up the phone lines?

“I feel like the powers that be need to be more transparent with the people filing claims,” she said. “How much longer do we have to be patient?”

Korbulic told lawmakers that the PUA system, which is staffed by workers from outside vendor Alorica while state employees handle traditional unemployment claims, is “largely working as anticipated” even as the agency continues to work through issues identified at the call center.

Asked when the situation at the phones would improve, Korbulic noted that a transition to a more advanced cloud-based system is underway, and more people are coming on board to answer the calls.

“We're already beginning to roll out and implement this phone system in our call centers that are new and opening as of today, and expanding our workforce at a pretty rapid pace, especially considering we’re a state agency,” she said. “So we're hoping that there will be an improvement, you know, every day.”

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