An update on the pandemic unemployment assistance program for self-employed people, gig workers and the like:

This is the federally backed program that was delayed in implementation in Arkansas for slow development of a website and then further delayed by lack of protection for personal financial information.

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I got a complaint last week from a Fayetteville man — a poker dealer in Oklahoma casinos with 1099-reported compensation — who complained he’d filed for the PUA May 2 and had not received a check as of Thursday last week. He complained of differing answers in some 35 calls for assistance.

I relayed his information to Workforce Services and, coincidentally, he received his first check the next day.

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He was one of those who applied to be paid by debit card, rather than by direct deposit. That is apparently another time-eater, because debit cards are handled by an outside bank contractor, US Bank, through U.S. mail (as explained here).

Zoe Calkins at Workforce Services got back to me Friday afternoon on the worker’s question. She said it generally takes 7 to 10 days after the date of the first weekly claim is filed. Though the poker dealer filed for benefits May 2 and was approved, the first weekly claim couldn’t be made until May 20.

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The initial debit cards are only for the most recent claim. Retroactive claims (10 weeks for my poker dealer) have not been paid and won’t be until further website development is completed. Wrote Calkins Friday:

The PUA system component for retro weekly claims is being developed and will be available soon. Applicants will be notified when they can log in and file backdated weekly claims for PUA. As stated at ALC on Wednesday, there have been approximately 39,000 applicants since May 1. For the week ending May 23, 12,200 filed weekly claims and received payment out of the 21,100 who were approved. For the week ending May 16th, 16,150 filed weekly claims and received payment out of the 19,700 who were approved. Disbursements for those two weeks totaled $19,395,072.

I asked for more specific information on the debit card group’s retroactive payments and specifically about the case of the poker dealer, who got money on May 29. She elaborated:

5,743 claimants have chosen to receive payments by debit card.

One reason why backdated claims are being paid separately is because that part of the PUA system is still being developed. To get money out the door quickly, we gave applicants’ interim approval, which qualifies them for the minimum benefit amount of $132 plus the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). Their weekly benefit amount may be adjusted up to $451 depending on the earnings/wage information provided, and soon they will receive a formal determination of eligibility with their adjusted weekly benefit amount. Then, they will be able to claim any retroactive weeks of PUA (prior to the week ending May 16) for the period of unemployment directly caused by COVID-19.

The total amount of benefits for backdated claims will be paid to the individual in one lump sum. For those whose weekly benefit amount is adjusted above the minimum $132, this payment would include whatever they did not receive for the weeks of benefits claimed prior to their WBA adjustment. The $600 FPUC is added to weeks claimed during weeks ending April 4-July 25, so applicants should be aware that the $600 will not be added on to their weekly benefit amount for weeks claimed prior to week ending April 4. Applicants should also continue filing their weekly claims each week they are unemployed.

It takes 7-10 days for debit cards to arrive. While I don’t know when this applicant filed his first weekly claim, our first notice instructing applicants to file their first weekly claim went out on Wednesday, May 20. If he filed on the 20th, taking into account the holiday weekend in between, his debit card arrived within the 7-10 days, not counting the holiday.