In Arkansas, 24,000 people still wait for pandemic unemployment checks
A year after the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered life across the globe, 24,000 Arkansans are still waiting for their unemployment benefits.
State officials say the delay is the result of needed identification verification.
“The issue is that we just need to hear from them," Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said.
Preston said some of those 24,000 people could have gone back to work. The federal government has also changed some conditions for people to receive the checks and some might not qualify for the program any longer.
Since Jan. 1, the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services has sent approximately 33,000 people their checks.
The money people receive varies and depends on how much money they made while employed. The scale ranged from $132 to $450. Since Jan. 1, $123,722,898 has been paid to 33,751 claimants, and that included the additional $300 a week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.
The checks are designed to help people who lost their jobs because of the COVID pandemic.
State legislators agreed this is the No. 1 issue that their constituents contact them about.
“It is the most frequent constituent concern raised to me in the current timeframe," state Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith said.
Boyd estimated he has received one to two calls a day on the subject for the last month.
“Unfortunately we've got people out here who are hurting, and it's killing us," state Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, said.
District 74 state Rep. Jon Eubanks added he has had a lot of calls from constituents who have had issues with the program. District 74 includes portions of Logan, Franklin, Scott, and Sebastian counties.
To help speed the process, Preston said his department is working on hiring new people to process claims.
“Honestly we’re stretched really thin," Preston said.
The state has considered calling in the Arkansas National Guard to help with the claims, but Preston noted it was "too early to say whether that will happen or not."
Katie Beck, director of communications for the Arkansas governor's office, confirmed there are no solid plans to deploy the National Guard at this time.
"A decision has not been made on the National Guard and whether that is a good fit for the needs of accelerating the evaluation of claims," Beck said in an email.
For now, Preston has been sending additional people to unemployment offices to process claims.
Preston said he is looking to hold larger in-person events on the weekends. In that case, he would rent out a large venue and allow people to come in to verify their IDs. Preston has also thought about having a drive-thru system for people to verify their IDs.
The Department of Commerce had events like those prior to the new approval of the program in January.
The department sent emails to all the people who need to confirm their IDs. In the emails, they received unique URLs where they can upload their IDs. Preston said this is the easiest way for people to submit their IDs.
The problem is that many people in rural Arkansas do not have internet access. In that case, they can go into their local unemployment offices to show their IDs.
During the pandemic, the Department of Commerce has given out $118 million in grants to improve internet access.