These common issues could hold back your Louisiana unemployment benefits

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (WDSU) – About 300,000 claims for unemployment benefits filed in Louisiana since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been paid. The state labor department says those unpaid claims – triple the number of paid claims in 2019 – could fall into any number of categories.

They might be abandoned, fraudulent or duplicate claims, in the words of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, “being reviewed for adjudication and ID verification.”

Scores of people have reached out to WDSU with complaints about their experience with the unemployment benefits application process that’s holding up a much-needed payment.

Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Dejoie said the agency is working overtime and on weekends to get to all the claims, but the volume makes it impossible to get to everyone’s call. The agency has taken an approach of solving issues in batches, based on similar types of problems, she said.

The following are common issues Dejoie said people applying for unemployment insurance should be aware of if they haven’t yet received payment.

  • If a claimant is filing for a different type of claim, they will need to verify their ID for each new type of claim.
  • Claims filed under someone else’s email address, even a relative’s, could cause issues. For anyone without their own email, she recommends signing up for their own account. “It’s free,” she said.
  • Some claimants may not realize if they received severance pay or pay for unused vacation, they don’t qualify for unemployment. “That type of compensation is considered wages,” Dejoie said.
  • “Separation mismatch” is a common issue that requires fact-finding and can slow down a claim payment. It occurs when an employer reports information about a claimant’s job loss or wages that are different from information the person filing the claim provides.
  • Shared bank accounts, especially ones with several names, can slow down a claim because they may be flagged as potentially fraudulent.

Resolving issues in bulk is the most efficient way to get payments out on pending claims, Dejoie said. When a claim is under review, staff will generally reach out to claimants via email to provide updates or to request more information, she said, again emphasizing that filers benefit from having their own individual email accounts.

Even after an issue with a claim is resolved in one of those batches, she said, other issues could linger that require further review.

“The nuances are unbelievable,” Dejoie said, of individual claims.

Dejoie and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office said the Louisiana Workforce Commission is working to process claims more quickly. One area where Dejoie said the agency can improve is communication.

For example, a new question was recently added to claim applications, prompting a massive response from claimants worried about the change and what it meant for their claim. The agency could have warded off questions and worry from applicants by explaining it ahead of time, the secretary said.

New ID verification requirements put in place at the end of last year followed an uptick in fraudulent unemployment claims across the country.

While Dejoie’s inclination is to get out as many payments out as possible, she said the state has a responsibility to curb fraud because when fraudulent claims are paid, “we’re all being scammed.”

The Louisiana Workforce Commission has referred 28,000 cases of suspected unemployment fraud to law enforcement since the start of the pandemic. Fraud investigations and referrals happen daily, the commission said. In November 2020 alone, the agency thwarted more than 60,000 pandemic-related claims that it suspected were fraud attempts, according to the commission.

Dejoie said her staff is continuing to try to meet the unprecedented demand for unemployment insurance. In the meantime, the agency is looking for workers, itself.

“We’re hiring,” Dejoie said.

Virtual job fairs are posted here.

About 10 months into the pandemic, the Louisiana Workforce Commission had paid eight times more unemployment insurance claims than it did in all of 2019.

About 800,000 out-of-work Louisiana residents filing between March 2020 and the end of January 2021 received a total of $7.45 billion in state and federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits. In all of 2019, about 100,000 residents received state unemployment insurance totaling $153 million.

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