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Some Arkansans still waiting on pandemic unemployment assistance benefits

The Department of Commerce says the backlog is cleared up but says there are several reasons people still haven't received their benefits.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Many Arkansans who have filed for unemployment benefits still have not received all of their benefits. Some people have gone months without receiving any money and say they are frustrated they aren’t able to get a hold of anyone to tell them why.  

“It has been very frustrating. There were times that it had gotten so bad, money was so tight that I didn’t know if we were going to make it,” Angelia Guest said. 

Guest filed for unemployment benefits back in October 2020. After not receiving any benefits she says she called the office in December to check on the status and was told it would be a while. In March, she finally received part of her benefits. She says six weeks of her pandemic unemployment assistance benefits are on hold and she doesn’t know why. 

“I just think the system was totally unprepared for this type of situation but phone calls, if you got through, you would be on hold for an hour, an hour and a half and that’s if they didn’t accidentally hang up on you,” she said. 

The Arkansas Department of Commerce says while there was a backlog of pandemic unemployment claims they have since worked through those, but several changes have been made to the PUA program since December. 

Secretary Mike Preston says they have to verify people’s IDs and verify that their reason for being unemployed is Covid-19 related. 

“We are trying to make it as easy as possible for folks to do that," Preston said. "We are getting ready to do a series of in-person ID verifications, kind of a mass ID verification in addition to the traditional ways of uploading it to our website through the secure email link that you receive or going into one of our local workforce offices."

Preston says there are also other reasons people may not be receiving their benefits like a hold on their account from a previous claim or an overpayment. He says in some cases an unemployment specialist will have to talk with those people to get the hold cleared up. 

Another issue could be that a denied claim needs to go through the appeal process. 

“Unfortunately, we just have this volume of people doing it," he said. "It can be challenging. I understand it can be frustrating for those who are trying to get paid, but obviously, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the funds that are entrusted in us from the federal government and the taxpayers to make sure we are doing all the guidelines that were set forth for us." 

The number of people unemployed in Arkansas has dropped to 4.4% and has been on a decline for several months.

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