BATON ROUGE – For the last few months, 2 On Your Side has been receiving multiple calls and emails every day from people caught up in a delay at the unemployment office. So far this week, 2 On Your Side has forwarded requests for help from 26 people. Many of them have a claim that was flagged for fraud and have been waiting more than two months to hear back from someone at the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Derrick Ellis says his unemployment benefits were flagged for fraud two and a half months ago. He submitted the identification paperwork requested of him and hasn’t heard back.
“It really depresses you, You know what I mean?” Ellis said.
On Monday, Ellis says the water company shut off his water because he can’t afford to pay the bill. He fears his electricity is next. For weeks, his claim said that it’s processing.
“The woman said it would take weeks and weeks until you start receiving your money again,” he said. “I don’t know what weeks and weeks means, apparently never.”
Every few days, Ellis visits the unemployment office and fills out a form requesting a callback. He has yet to receive a call.
“I’ve never been able to talk to anybody, nobody ever returns a phone call, an email or nothing,” he said.
Ellis is one of thousands of people in the same boat. LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie said Friday that employees are being trained to work nights and weekends to take care of a backlog of people. Those extra hours started on Jan. 9. LWC has hired more than 300 additional people to help with the influx of claimants. Additionally, more than 80 staff members have been trained for the job. Dejoie said Friday that 30,000 have an issue with their claim and are waiting to hear back from LWC.
While many people who contact 2 On Your Side say they’ve been waiting weeks for a response about their unemployment, LWC says claim review times vary from case to case due to individual circumstances. When 2 On Your Side asked why some people are waiting months for a response, LWC said that due to confidentiality it can’t disclose specific claimant information, but circumstances include identity verification and missing wage reports.
The lag is really hitting Ellis hard. He’s been to a handful of job interviews but so far hasn’t been hired. Now he owes about $800 in bills that he can’t afford to pay.
“No money, no work, no answer,” he said.
So far this week, LWC has paid out $75 million in unemployment insurance benefits under all state and federal programs.