INDIANAPOLIS — Rafael Sanchez and officials with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development are answering you questions about unemployment.
The Rebound: Indiana is a new RTV6 initiative helping you bounce back after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virtual town hall was hosted by Rafael Sanchez. He was joined by Fred Payne, Commissioner, Indiana Department of Workforce Development, Josh Richardson, Chief of Staff, Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and Regina Ashley, Chief Unemployment Insurance and Workforce Solutions Officer, Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
MORE COVERAGE | The Rebound: Indiana
You can watch the town hall in the player above or on the RTV6 Facebook page.
Below is the answers to some of the questions answered.
Rafael: Josh one more question before I go to Regina. Right now, there are still many Hoosiers, telling us, expressing some frustration, that they’ve applied, and their eligible but they have yet to receive a payment. What do they do what do you tell them?
Josh: People are encouraged to check out blog postings and other information about it here. The department is working to get payments out the door pretty quickly.
“The problem is even though that is a high percentage, we have a high percentage of people receiving their benefits in less than 21 days, the problem is that other side, that 20 percent or 15 percent that have an issue. It’s a small percentage but a very large number on the claim fillings we have,” Josh said.
The department is looking into some automated ways to help speed up this process.
Rafael: I’ve applied and I think I am eligible for benefits, who can I call or what do I do while I wait?
Regina: Before you apply, check unemployment.in.gov
This will help you give you information on benefits, especially for people who are self-employed or independent contractors. This also has information on the federal programs.
The department’s website is constantly being updated to answer frequently asked questions and help provide information on the different types of benefit options available.
The department has added about a hundred agents to help answer the phones when you call since the call volume and wait times can be high.
If you need to call or talk to someone, you can call from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Agents can call you back if needed in the evenings and weekends.
The agents aren’t going to be able to help you resolve your issue but can help you understand information on your benefits. The claims investigators are the ones who are able to help to do this.
The department has added servers to help with the increase in traffic to its website.
If you do call, the department has added a callback feature and an agent will typically call you back within 24 hours.
Rafael: What is the best day to file?
Regina: You can file any day of the week, but the department’s week runs Sunday through Saturday so you need to file your weekly voucher within that time. You can file any time – day or night.
If you can wait until Tuesday or later in the week, you may have a better experience due to the typically lower amount of traffic.
Rafael: Friday is a big day because many people will be eligible for pandemic assistance. This is for people who normally wouldn’t be able to apply for state unemployment benefits.
Josh: This is a big day for tens of thousands of Hoosiers. The department has scrambled since President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act to help create a system to help these people. People should be able to file on Friday, but may experience slower times because of the anticipated high traffic.
Rafael: Will people who previously applied and were rejected need to reapply?
Josh: Yes, people will need to reapply. When you log in, the home page will have a link to apple for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.
This is because the qualifications for the PUA program is different than other programs. It should be a smoother process, and the department should be able to contact them by e-mail to let them know they can apply.
People will need to file weekly vouchers to help make sure they continue receiving the benefits.
Rafael: Are there any common things that may slow down someone getting benefits?
Regina: Answer the questions honestly and accurately. A lot of the issues now are because of some people who may have had partial, sick, or vacation pay for a week. If this is the case, a claims investigator will be assigned to it, which can slow down the process.
Rafael: Why can’t the department pull wages from taxes?
Regina: If you are applying for regular unemployment benefits, they pull the information from the employer. When you are filing for initial claims, you can view it and modify anything that is wrong with it.
The information can lag, so people will need to say if they are getting any income when they fill out their weekly vouchers.
Rafael: Are you keeping to an average 21 day pay out for benefits?
Josh: Average is the keyword. Some people are beating the 21 days because of the automated system Indiana has. There are a lot of people are getting benefits in about 15 to 16 days.
Because of the increase in volume, this could take longer. The department is working to help make sure benefits are being paid as quickly as possible.
Rafael: How are you helping people who are waiting for appeals, but also waiting for their cash?
Regina: People have the right to appeal so administrative judges are working to set up hearings for people who have requested them.
The department is hoping to not have as many people who aren’t eligible for benefits through flexibility given to the department by elected officials.
Rafael: How do you see things from your vantage point?
Fred: The department is trying to address each and every claim that comes through the system. They are working to hire additional employees and bringing in a third party vendor to help with the volume of calls to the call center.
New processes and systems are being designed to help while they are still making sure they are helping Hoosiers who need it.
Rafael: Will someone get retroactive pay from PAU from when she initially applied?
Fred: The department worked to sign agreements and help make sure people will get paid from when they were eligible back from March 29.
Rafael: Do you foresee changes in the future?
Fred: Yes there will be changes. The department will continue to review and reflect the new systems and processes.
Rafael: What will help make it easier for you? Would hiring more people help?
Fred: Anytime you add more people to the mix, it can help. The problem isn’t the number of employees working at the call center, the problem is a system that allows people to get in. As the new systems go online, it should help reduce the call wait times.
Prior to calling, make sure you read all of the information on the website because a lot of the questions people are calling about are already answered on the website.
Rafael: If I haven’t been paid, but I have been called back to work, will I be paid for the last month?
Josh: Yes. If you have been filing your vouchers and you are later found to be eligible, the benefits will come.
Rafael: What happens when people who have been getting benefits go back to work? At what point do you let the department know you are back at work?
Josh: A question on the voucher asks people if they have worked during the week. This is a place where the department sees a lot of fraud in the system. It is important people answer this question honestly so the department can take care of the rest.
Rafael: Some other states have ran out of unemployment. Should Hoosiers be worried?
Josh: No one should be worried about the state running out of funds. The state has an agreement with the federal government to get money for benefits if needed.
Rafael: What happens if you work for a temp agency and the place you were working shut down and you can’t get all of the information to fill out the application?
Regina: Go to the online system and fill out all of the information you can. If needed, a claims investigator will reach out to you if needed.
Rafael: Some changes were made to the application process to help make some questions make more sense and remove hurdles to make it easier for people.
Josh: Once the coronavirus pandemic started, the department started looking to make sure their benefits were available for people. One of the things the department did was related to available to work and able to work. The department has added some questions on the applications to identify people who are out of work because or coronavirus to work around some things that may have prevented people to get benefits in the past.
Rafael: Will retroactive benefits be paid all at once or will they be staggered once the benefits get approved?
Josh: It depends on the person and it will vary per person when you get the money.
Rafael: People are anticipating the PAU sign up on Friday. Can you walk people through this process?
Fred: The program is designed for people who typically wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment, like people who are self-employed, have limited work history, or independent contractors. The department needs people to provide information on who they are and the type of work they are doing. Once the department receives it, it would go through the process of evaluation. Around May 8, those who are eligible, payments will start being distributed.
Rafael: Is there a reason someone wouldn’t get the benefits?
Fred: The CARES Act is designed to help as many people as possible. But some people may have issues if the department can’t verify the employment data or who a person is.
Rafael: Is there a reason someone may not get benefits because of something like child support?
Josh: The department will work through any court order for something like child support, but it depends on each person’s case.
Rafael: How do you pick which claims to look at first?
Regina: The department looks at the oldest cases first.
Rafael: How do you address the frustration people are having?
Fred: Each person who is assigned to claims is dedicated to making sure people who are eligible get their claims. The department is working to get to each claim as quickly as they can. Be patient with them, they are working as fast as they can with the high claim volume.