How Nebraska Is Handling Record Unemployment Claims, and Common Questions About Benefits
By Mike Tobias , Senior Producer, Nebraska Public Media
April 1, 2020, 11:52 a.m. ·
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A record number of Nebraskans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are filing unemployment insurance claims. Mike Tobias talked with Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin about how his agency is managing this load, and common questions people have about the unemployment process.
Commissioner of Labor John Albin, Gov. Pete Ricketts and UNMC College of Public Health Dean Dr. Ali Khan will answer questions during a special "Speaking of Nebraska" live call-in program Thursday at 8:30 pm CT on NET Television and NET Radio. Submit questions in advance HERE.
CLICK HERE for more NET News COVID-19 reporting and information.
Mike Tobias, NET Television: I want to start by asking you how the Department of Labor is dealing with the extremely high number of Nebraskans filing for unemployment benefits.
John Albin, Nebraska Commissioner of Labor: We are managing to take in all the claims that are being offered. We have done a record number of claim intakes. Primarily that's due to the fact that we have a fairly robust online claim system that's up 24/7. And last week of the 15,668 claims that we took, 99.7 percent of those were via that online application, which certainly helps everyone a lot in terms of, they get the information in the system, we've got the claim, and we don't have to spend time entering it in the first place.
Tobias: After they file, how soon can people expect to start seeing benefits.
Albin: The typical U.S. DOL (Department of Labor) standard for any new claim is, they want 80 percent of your claims to be paid within 21 days of the claim being filed. When we wrote those numbers, none of them imagined that we would have a volume that we're receiving right now, so we're going to do our very best to get them out within that 21 days. But given the volume of claims, I'm not sure I can guarantee that. Some of the factors that we're looking at, we're hoping will make it go a little faster than usual, is most of these claims are fairly clean claims in the sense that there aren't a lot of separations in the base period from employers for quits and fires that we have to adjudicate. It's pretty much just a straight layoff and the person's monetarily eligible. So we're hoping we can beat that 21-day standard on the average. But we'll just have to see how the volume of the claims comes up. Some of the things that we've done is, before the COVID-19 outbreak, we had 34 adjudicators. We've been pulling people in from other programs and as of yesterday, I think we had the functional equivalent of 70 adjudicators. So we have doubled the staff and we're meeting daily to try and assess the workload and figure out ways that we can process it more quickly.
Tobias: Adjudicators are the staff evaluating each claim?
Albin: Yes, the adjudicator is the person who determines whether the claimant is eligible or not.
Tobias: Who isn’t eligible for unemployment in the current environment?
Albin: Generally under the regular program, anyone who quits their job without good cause or is not eligible for unemployment benefits, there's a 14 week disqualification period for anyone who's fired for misconduct. And as to separations that are under that normal program of quits and fires, all those old rules continue to apply. Under the COVID-19 claims, there's a more relaxed standard in the sense that if the person is out of work due to the COVID-19 outbreak and there's really no option for them to telework or anything like that, then we're considering them as being eligible for benefits.
Tobias: What are some of the common questions you’re getting from people going through the process?
Albin: The first question we often get at the call center is, "When will I get paid?" That's tied right into that 21-day standard. We want payments within 21 days of the effective date of the claim and that's always our goal. Actually people do not need to call in and ask us that. They can look it up, because like I said, 99.7 percent of those claims are coming in online and if you go online and look at the services that are available to a claimant, it will tell you whether you've been paid or not, so you really don't have to call to ask. You can just go look it up, and considering the volume of calls that we've been receiving, you can probably access it much more quickly if you go online than if you get on the phone and wait for someone to tell you whether or not you've been paid. It also gives you a status of the claim.
Albin: Another common question we get is, "Was my claim filed?" And the answer to that is as simple as, "Open your email box." Because when a claim is filed online, we automatically send an email to the claimant telling them that their claim has been received.
Albin: One of the other common questions, because everyone's interested in the $600 a week additional federal payment that's available under Section 2104 of the CARES Act. We will pay that as soon as we can. People do not have to do anything extra to do it. If they have filed this week and it did start this week, it will automatically be added to their benefit amount whether it's by direct deposit or a debit card. But one caution on that is, I just got off a conference call a few minutes ago with U.S. DOL (Department of Labor) and they were cautioning the states not to start paying the $600 a week until after we receive our guidance from U.S DOL. So they were hoping to get that out yet this week. But if they should delay for any particular reason that could throw off a payment schedule, but whenever it occurs we will catch it up immediately, and the individual won't have to do anything additional to get the $600 payment. And if we have to catch up two or three weeks, then we'll just make that all in a lump distribution. It's very similar to what we did with the federal additional compensation program during the great recession. Just the amount is much larger.
Albin: I guess the final question that we've been getting is, what do I qualify for if I'm self-employed? Under the CARES Act, section 2102 provides that if you are self-employed and unable to work because of the COVID-19, that can range from your business is closed because you can't go into the workplace or you have to care for someone at home. It's got a long laundry list of reasons. But those people can now qualify for what they call pandemic unemployment assistance. It's very similar to the disaster unemployment assistance that we had last year during the flooding, particularly in eastern Nebraska. So that program will be up and available. And the benefits on that will range from $174 per week to $440 per week. And then in addition to that amount, the additional compensation, the $600 a week under section 2104 will also apply to those individuals. So the maximum claim will be $1,040 per week.
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