Arkansas began rolling out the special pandemic unemployment assistance payments for self-employed in early May and three months later the problem-plagued system remains a nightmare for many intended beneficiaries.

Commerce Secretary Mike Preston, where the buck stops, said recently that somewhere around 25,000 people remained locked out of their pandemic unemployment benefit accounts because of security measures put in place for fear of fraud, both from a poorly designed system that was discovered in the beginning to leave personal information open and then also because of fears of national data breaches that have allowed people to use names and Social Security of others to make claims. Another 10,000 were being delayed in receiving regular unemployment benefits, according to Preston’s last report.

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Preston promised a heightened effort to provide people with in-person chances to clear their accounts. For weeks now, on account of periodic reporting here, I’ve been flooded with complaints from people insisting they have legitimate claims but can’t get answers. I don’t have the time or resources to serve as state ombudsman. So I’ve been forwarding complaints by those who provide name, phone number, email and other identifying information to the Workforce Services agency. They have promised to resolve the problems. Perhaps some have been helped. The state can’t provide information about individual claims to me, so I can’t say for certain. All I know is the backlog continues and frustration is high.

To keep this issue alive, rather than shoved under the rug in Governor Hutchinson’s office, two more tales follow from the desperate.

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First, from a military spouse, with personal information removed:

I am currently one of the millions who was laid-off from my job as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

As of now, my husband is our only source of income. He is currently serving our U.S. military here at Little Rock Air Force Base. Now with 1/2 of our income lost, it’s getting harder for us to keep up with the car note, insurance, student loans, and can’t forget groceries, gas, and hygiene products, among other things.

 

I have been receiving benefits from the PUA program since June, however, for some odd reason.. my last claim filed on July 26, 2020 is still pending for review and I’ve been locked out of my account. This has caused us so much stress, and because of this we are having to make many arrangements for the bills that are due and already are behind on a few.

 

My husband and I would be so very grateful if you could look into this for us and help find out what’s going on. I’ve called the PUA hotline multiple times, submitted additional documentation in a very timely manner, and still haven’t heard or received anything.

 

Here’s some info that you may need from me in regard to my PUA application and claim pending review. REDACTED

If you need any further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. Thank you so much again for your time and all your doing to help others during this very difficult time.

 

God bless.

And this came last night, yet another unhappy account of a blog reader on an earlier post about unemployment assistance woes.

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I have been attempting to contact my local unemployment office for the last 9 days to give them information per instructed by the Arkline on my pending unemployment claim. I was even specifically given the phone number to my local office and instructed to call. I called for 3 days starting from 8am. When someone FINALLY answered on the 3rd day , I was told to call back the next morning that everyone had gone home…

 

Started the process again and over the 6 days of ringing without ever being answered, being transferred to an automated message telling me ” we’re too busy , call back later”, being put on hold and being disconnected, told to call the hotline (that originally gave me the number to my local office) or just flat out being hung up on, and finally being told “I dont know what to tell you to do.”  All I need to do is provide some additional information on my pending claim and I was given a deadline to do this. As my deadline approaches I have yet to be able to speak to ANYONE .

 

My local office is Columbia County, Magnolia. I was told because I was not instructed to report in person I could not make an appointment for an in-person meeting. How am I expected to submit the information requested if It is IMPOSSIBLE to contact anyone to receive it???! I am tired of being hung up on or transferred to automated systems that only tell me to call back later to have the same thing happen in the same loop again and again and again.

 

I worked every day on the front lines as a custodian during the onset of this pandemic and watched SO MANY undeserving people draw over $600 a week and get THOUSANDS in back pay who haven’t worked more than a week total in there whole lives! The whole time vowing to myself to be part of the solution….NOT to be part of the problem.

 

I had to take a leave of absence to be my 10 yr old granddaughter’s primary care giver because my son, who is a veteran btw, is a single father and had obligations he had to fulfill to the National Guard and is a full-time student in college. For that the state of Arkansas says I do not fit the criteria for pandemic relief! During his summer A.T. he was exposed to COVID twice and had to quarantine for 2 weeks each time! I am all they have. I had to step up. Now her school is going to do the hybrid thing. I have to be responsible for her education now as well. If that don’t fit the criteria, what does???

The state may be right. There may be legitimate reasons these two people do NOT qualify for assistance. But that’s an answer they deserve to be provided as clearly and expeditiously as deserved benefits.

The “transformed” state government Hutchinson promised isn’t readily apparent in the unemployment sector. At the worst possible time. Note that the same department doled out tens of millions to businesses seeking government cash handouts in a matter of days, few questions asked.