INDIANAPOLIS — Dozens of Hoosiers made their way to the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday for an event they called a “vigil and call to action.”
It was a chance for them to honor lives lost due to the pandemic, but also draw attention to other things people have lost, like their job.
As many Hoosiers still wait on unemployment benefits, a New Albany woman has stepped up to be their unofficial spokesperson.
“People are still dealing with not being able to get clear answers from the call center. They are dealing with not being able to find information on the webpage,” Mary McCloskey said. McCloskey is an optician who temporarily lost her job last March due to the pandemic.
“It was scary. It was really scary,” said McCloskey.
So she started a Facebook group for people to connect online while they navigate the unemployment benefit application process.
“More and more people started joining and now we're at 9,300 people,” McCloskey said.
It is a place for people to turn when they feel like they can’t get answers anywhere else. Members share stories of their experience and post tips for filling out the unemployment benefits application.
“It was very clear from the very beginning the Department of Workforce Development did not have the tools they needed to meet this unprecedented time that we had,” explained Lane Fulton, who was also at the Statehouse on Tuesday.
Fulton said he applied for unemployment benefits and issues with his application led to a delay in processing. He said collectively he spent more than 26 hours on hold with the DWD to get those issues resolved. He lived off of his savings and went months without receiving any benefits.
“I was fortunate that I had savings to lean back on, but I fear for others who do not have that safety net that I had for myself,” Fulton said.
“They are angry. They feel like they have not been heard, feel like they're invisible. There are so many different feelings from so many different people,” McCloskey said.
On Tuesday, they called on state leaders to act and find a way to funnel more resources to the department Hoosiers struggling with unemployment benefits can rely on.
“They need to fund and staff these departments fully and with a contingency plan for more pandemics and other things that will happen in the future,” Fulton said.
“I hope that our state leaders will hear us and help provide more guidance, more efficient solutions for the call center,” McCloskey said.
A spokesperson for the DWD said more than 836,000 Hoosiers have received unemployment benefits since the pandemic began last year. Roughly 85% who file for unemployment are paid within 21 days.