Coronavirus

Many Unemployed Still Waiting For Their First Check

unemployment application

If you’ve filed for unemployment benefits and haven’t received a check yet, you’re not alone.

Nearly 17 million Americans have applied for unemployment assistance in the last three weeks as the nation’s economy came to a virtual halt amid the coronavirus pandemic, and states were overwhelmed by applications, Reuters reported Friday (April 10).

There was good news for unemployed workers in the $2.3 trillion stimulus bill the president signed late last month. It provided $600 federal dollars a week for 16 weeks, added to what the states normally provide.

The surge of applicants has forced some states to hire more staff, expand calling hours and ease the filing process, the news service reported.

One of the solutions some states, such as New Hampshire and New York, have adopted is to have applicants apply on specific days of the week based on their name.

While many states where workers who receive a 1099 tax form instead or a W-2 and don’t qualify for benefits, the legislation provides cash for those independent contractors.

But in Maine, at least, the benefits have yet to flow, according to the report.

In Maryland, Jason Suggs, an unemployment claims processor, estimated two-thirds of the state’s claims processing staff have retired while others left and were not replaced.

“The first thing someone says to you when you answer the phone is, ‘I’ve been on hold for four hours,’” Suggs said on a conference call organized by public sector employee unions, the report said.

Massachusetts may be one of the rare exceptions.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the payment system is completely online, and its success stems from the fact that the unemployment service was moved to a cloud-based system years ago.

Still, not everyone is convinced the system is working in the Bay State.

Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, a Chelsea nonprofit whose mission is to empower residents to enhance the social and economic health of the community, told WBUR that her staff is working overtime to assist clients get unemployment benefits.

She said staff members are helping 50 clients a day apply for unemployment. She told the NPR affiliate in Boston that the system routinely freezes, causing applicants to start over.

“Last week we had a lot of that and it was a bit overwhelming,” she said. “Unemployment benefits are sort of a band-aid to the larger financial problems this country and the world will have after this epidemic stops and people go back to work.”

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