FAYETTEVILLE, Ark — Arkansans across the state continue to wait for pandemic unemployment assistance to pick back up after payments stopped in December.
The lag in funds is leaving many people wondering how they will keep their lights on.
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston says at this point and time the department is making changes to the online system to prevent fraudulent claims.
Sydney Maybury from Gentry says while the payments have stopped, her bills have not. She hopes the system gets up and running sooner rather than later.
“It’s like desperation, it’s like I can keep my lights and my you know gas going and probably stay in my house but I’m going to be so far behind that I am never going to catch up,” Maybury said.
Maybury, like many Arkansans, checks the Arkansas Workforce website every day, patiently waiting for PUA benefits to pick back up.
"It’s just panic and you can’t really sleep and you can’t really relax and it’s just checking the computer every day to see if they figured this out yet," she said.
As the stress and anxiety build, so does the stack of unpaid bills.
When asked what the hold up was, Preston said first, the state was waiting on guidance to come down from the federal level, and now his department is implementing that guidance to the current system, which he says takes time.
"We received our guidance from the department of labor last Friday what that means is we can’t set up the new program until we have that guidance because there was some changes," Preston said.
He says that includes creating a more secure application process that prevents fraud. He says his team identified over $50,000 fraudulent PUA claims.
"Well people are struggling there are funds available we’re doing everything we can to get the system up and running but we also want to do it in a safe and secure way," Preston said.
The Arkansas Workforce expects payments to continue in mid-February, but for now, the website asks people not to call their offices or helplines, meaning the wait continues.
Preston says when the new system is up and running, eligible Arkansans will receive payments that have been missed since the benefits stopped right before the start of the new year.
He says other states are also seeing a slow rollout of the PUA since they all had to wait for guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.