PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The head of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) tells Target 12 his agency is doing its best to identify people who are coming up on the 13-week unemployment extension and manually prolonging their benefits.
DLT Director Scott Jensen said the process is slow, and they’re working to get a program up and running that would take care of it automatically.
As of last week, nearly 300,000 jobless claims have been filed in Rhode Island. The high number of claims, in addition to an ongoing fraud investigation and other factors, has caused the DLT to get behind in creating new programming to extend benefits, according to Jensen.
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“When you’re coming off of PUA [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] or you’re coming off of PEUC [Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation], both of those programs are new, so in order to automatically tack on the extended benefits requires new programming,” Jensen explained.
What that means is, “a tax on a limited number of coders, a limited number of policy staff to get that done,” he added.
When asked what people who depend on that money can do, Jensen said they’ll have to wait.
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The unemployment rate dropped 4 percentage points from May to June, but data obtained by Target 12 shows the backlog of out-of-work claims is rising. Jensen said that’s typical of this time of year due to seasonal layoffs, but also because of the sheer scale of this economic downturn.
“We’re starting to see a lot of claims from people who are now suffering,” he said. “Their employers are suffering the repercussions of the pandemic.”
Jensen said if you have a problem with your benefits and need to reach DLT, the best thing to do is to file a complaint on its website.
“We do have a team who are cued in to respond that way,” Jensen said, adding that if you can’t get through, keep trying. “It is tough, I acknowledge it, but you really have to keep trying because we’re going to get to it.”
He also advised giving it a week to hear back from the DLT. If you don’t, fill out and submit another complaint form.
“Right now, we’re at averaging 12.8 days to get somebody benefits,” Jensen explained. “Again, sometimes that’s longer, sometimes that’s shorter.”
Jensen also said they’ll provide back pay to those who were not paid as they awaited for the extended benefits program to kick in.
“What we’ll do is backdate their claim,” he said. “Right now, the first people are about two weeks behind. We’ll back pay that claim and pay them backwards.”