As unemployment shrinks, Hoosiers still face long waits for benefit appeals

Sep 9, 2021

The Indiana Statehouse reflected in a government entrance near the Department of Workforce Development headquarters.
Credit Justin Hicks/IPB News

Hoosiers appealing issues with their unemployment benefits may still have to wait about six or seven months before they can get a hearing. Before the pandemic, that process took about 12 weeks.

Department of Workforce Development officials told lawmakers Thursday that’s due to a shortage of legal staff called administrative law judges.

DWD officials told a study committee they’re working through a backlog of roughly 20,000 disputed unemployment claims. Each of these cases gets a hearing in front of an attorney trained on unemployment benefits rules. Even so, DWD said it’s resolving appeals during the pandemic at a higher rate than any neighboring state.

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Meanwhile, as federal programs end and fewer people file for state unemployment benefits, DWD said most claimants applying for the first time should start to receive payments in just 14 to 21 days from filing. 

Regina Ashley, head of the unemployment insurance division, said people can also file for waivers if they were told they were overpaid benefits. She said DWD is working with federal officials on standards for granting those waivers for federal programs like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

“Our opinion right now is that if you have an overpayment during the pandemic, then that is a financial hardship, because people were out without employment,” she said.

Currently, to receive a waiver, the state requires claimants had "no fault" in the error and asks for pages of financial information to prove "economic hardship" which must be mailed or faxed to the agency. 

At the end of the hearing, the committee voted not to recommend any changes to the unemployment insurance system.

Contact reporter Justin at jhicks@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @Hicks_JustinM.