/How many jobless Mississippians are receiving unemployment benefits State employment office won’t say

How many jobless Mississippians are receiving unemployment benefits State employment office won’t say

The employment office has not responded to several public records requests or questions from Mississippi Today for weeks. This includes the question of how many unemployed people they have paid during the pandemic. Officials at the agency claim they are too busy to comply the Mississippi Public Records Act. Federal data indicates that about 30,000 Mississippians have filed unemployment claims every week since March 15, when the economic crisis began. About 200,000 people still filed weekly claims as of May 23rd, which is how they inform the department that they are still unemployed. The agency hasn’t said how many people have been approved or how many of them have received their money. Even if they meet all the requirements for traditional unemployment or expanded Pandemic Unemployment Aid, applicants face many hurdles to actually receive the funds. When applying, claimants must answer a series of questions. If one of their entries is incorrect (e.g. “leave or absence” instead than “laid off”), the issue may be raised. An employer could object to the claim. This would trigger an investigation where an agency investigator would need to interview the employer in order to make a decision on the claim within fourteen days. At a May 7 hearing, Employment Security representatives told lawmakers that there were nearly 44,000 pending issues at the agency. This was a “startling amount,” according to Jeff Rhodes, Benefits Payment Chief. Claimants could also be locked out of their accounts. This means that they will need to use clogged telephone lines to reach an agency employee who can reset the password. Even if applicants are notified that they have been approved, it is possible for them to wait several weeks before they receive either a direct deposit or their debit cards, which allow them to access the money in the mail. In the week ended May 2, the state had an 18.8 percent unemployment rate, which is eighth in the country. This was up from 15.6% in April and 4.8% in March. In the past, unemployment benefits only reached a fraction of those who are jobless in Mississippi, sometimes as low as 10 percent. They may not be eligible under state or federal guidelines, have exhausted 26 weeks, or simply did not bother to apply for the meager $30 to $235 per week benefit in Mississippi, which is the lowest in the country. The weekly benefit was increased by $600 in light of the pandemic. This makes it more attractive to those who are unemployed. This bump will expire on July 31. Mississippi Today currently has three open requests from the agency for records dating back to April 6, April 6 and April 13. State law requires that agencies provide records within seven business days of receiving a request. They can request extensions 14 times if requested. “Due to MDES’s critical and heightened duties during the COVID-19 Emergency we will not have the ability to re-direct vital resources at this time because of the allocation time necessary to properly respond to some items in your request,” Employment Security’s communications department stated in an emailed reply on April 22. We appreciate your understanding and patience. We ask for your patience and understanding. In response to questions from April 3rd and 6, the COVID-19 Incident Command Jim Craig, the department’s COVID-19 Commander Jim Craig stated that MSDH was working “around the clock” to protect Mississippi citizens. “As a consequence of the necessary work required to combat COVID-19,” the Health Department agreed to release names of long-term care facilities where residents or staff tested positive. This was in response to requests from April 3 and 6. Mississippi Today recently asked about the Employment Security work program, which has received $700,000.000 from the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The money was from Temporary Aid for Needy Families, which is a federal welfare grant that has been subject to a huge alleged embezzlement scam over the past three years. Officials from the Unemployment Department said they would not answer questions about the program’s operation, who it serves, or its outcomes. Instead, they referred all questions to Human Services. Mississippi Today received its $1.3million subgrant from Human Services. [Don’t miss: Weekly updates on Mississippi unemployment]