Indiana Department of Workforce Development struggling with unemployment appeals backlog

Kristin Hoffman, an attorney who is director of Indiana Legal Services’ Worker Rights and Protection Project, said the workforce development agency was unprepared to handle the massive amounts of claims that resulted from the pandemic.

Posted: Aug 15, 2021 2:11 PM
Updated: Aug 15, 2021 7:43 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s unemployment benefits system has continued to struggle with resolving appeals of payment denials, leaving the state with among the country’s worst appeals backlogs.

The backlog exploded last year as the Indiana Department of Workforce Development didn’t keep up with appeals filed by residents who claimed job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic recession, resulting in thousands of people waiting months for unemployment benefit payments.

The agency started August with more than 17,000 pending appeals after peaking with nearly 22,000 such appeals in January, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

Only California, Texas and Virginia — states with much larger populations — had more unsettled cases.

Kristin Hoffman, an attorney who is director of Indiana Legal Services’ Worker Rights and Protection Project, said the workforce development agency was unprepared to handle the massive amounts of claims that resulted from the pandemic.

In the two years before the pandemic, the state agency received and disposed of 12,000 to 13,000 appeals a year, department spokesman Scott Olson said. In the last year, the agency has received about 61,000 appeals and ruled on 42,000.

The unemployment appeals process rarely had backlogs before, Hoffman said. Part of the current deluge, she said, is the result of an overly complicated and confusing online system, fraught with “glitches and errors,” that residents must use to claim jobless benefits.

Ranae Lucas of Wabash said she was confused by the process and made errors on the income documents she needed to file when seeking unemployment benefits after losing her job as a waitress last year as she missed work to quarantine for a COVID-19 exposure.

As a result, the state suspended her benefits and she went months without receiving benefits. Lucas said she’s waited nearly a year for an appeal hearing about getting the denied payments.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Lucas said. “They penalized me for it.”

The state agency maintains it is combatting unprecedented levels of fraud, which the online system is built to flag.

Online screening has identified more than 25% of applicants as possibly fraudulent, Workforce Development Commissioner Fred Payne and other state officials said during a news conference in July.

Payne said the security measures have blocked more than $236 million in fraud payments, but it is unclear whether those payments include people with legitimate applications.

To try to fix the backlog, the agency is advertising to hire more attorneys as administrative judges to hear the appeals.

The agency had 17 before the pandemic, Olson said, and is up to 60 now.

Hoffman said the lengthy appeals process is putting people in a financial hole they can’t escape.

“The whole unemployment system is supposed to run as a safety net,” she said. “If we’re waiting five or six months to get an appeal, then what’s the point?”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1474289

Reported Deaths: 20385
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2021122504
Lake996361476
Allen909861007
Hamilton71271540
St. Joseph63433750
Elkhart48401623
Vanderburgh46765523
Tippecanoe42550330
Johnson37591519
Hendricks35518458
Porter34097464
Madison28261531
Clark25349321
Vigo25076343
LaPorte23079307
Monroe22397244
Howard21556372
Delaware21108365
Hancock18494218
Bartholomew17598212
Kosciusko17580201
Warrick16259212
Wayne15851300
Floyd15521252
Grant14992296
Morgan14070230
Boone13268136
Noble11509140
Dearborn11468112
Henry11427201
Shelby11276150
Marshall11115167
Dubois10954152
Jackson10280104
Cass10012142
DeKalb10005129
Lawrence9973220
Huntington9893139
Gibson9236125
Montgomery9105140
Knox8839124
Harrison8754111
Whitley850471
Steuben8403103
Jasper8125114
Putnam800497
Clinton800194
Miami7961133
Jefferson7663124
Wabash7651139
Ripley7053111
Adams6555101
Daviess6332127
Scott632686
White606581
Greene5958111
Clay592773
Decatur5843118
Wells5831120
Jennings578976
Fayette5687121
Posey535146
LaGrange517096
Randolph4972129
Washington487068
Owen484998
Fountain469079
Spencer441856
Starke435686
Sullivan433465
Fulton428290
Orange415182
Jay406464
Rush398737
Carroll374749
Franklin371250
Perry368755
Vermillion348762
Pike311345
Tipton309974
Parke308938
Pulaski269173
Blackford269055
Newton229559
Brown223654
Benton214821
Crawford213031
Switzerland192414
Martin184622
Warren170820
Union164419
Ohio120616
Unassigned0742

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2418722

Reported Deaths: 31245
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2613932065
Cuyahoga2576953018
Hamilton1679311714
Montgomery1114691604
Summit1070311391
Lucas899971160
Butler79406942
Stark750951400
Lorain63061792
Warren50411475
Mahoning49909915
Lake46923605
Clermont44079429
Delaware39138212
Trumbull38726755
Medina37708419
Licking37221408
Fairfield34115334
Greene32452422
Portage31473360
Clark30496445
Richland28493423
Wood27867297
Allen24603395
Miami23075395
Muskingum22525245
Columbiana22202403
Wayne21380356
Tuscarawas18940427
Erie18137222
Ashtabula17989342
Marion17633232
Scioto16712207
Ross16314252
Pickaway15631178
Hancock15407228
Geauga15281223
Lawrence13931186
Huron13460182
Union1340984
Belmont13369247
Jefferson12969258
Sandusky12862199
Athens11991106
Knox11595198
Seneca11540200
Ashland10830178
Darke10786198
Washington10644168
Auglaize10247142
Crawford9949175
Shelby9839157
Brown9507140
Fulton9310150
Guernsey9179117
Defiance9116135
Highland9100148
Logan9035142
Clinton8810127
Mercer8709111
Madison8654106
Preble8069162
Williams7937135
Putnam7780135
Ottawa7675121
Champaign7606112
Jackson7409117
Perry720798
Coshocton7076136
Morrow700182
Fayette670987
Hardin6251128
Pike621786
Gallia598191
Adams5844124
Van Wert5824121
Henry570793
Hocking5568104
Carroll4853100
Wyandot485290
Holmes4760161
Paulding404464
Meigs377473
Monroe300268
Noble281551
Harrison281361
Morgan278148
Vinton240845
Unassigned08
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