New online pandemic unemployment assistance portal ready; employers unlikely to see UI costs rise

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 27,283 views 

Though roughly 60,000 Arkansans are waiting for unemployment assistance, state officials say they have made progress toward eventually cutting checks to help with pandemic economic relief.

On Monday (Feb. 1) Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston and Division of Workforce Services Director Dr. Charisse Childers told reporters that a website to expedite payments for those seeking pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) was ready and receiving visitors. Still, it may be two weeks before new filers will receive benefits.

“If they filed their claim today and they have their ID submitted, then that claim will be reviewed and if that claim is eligible or that applicant is eligible, then that individual would receive their payment, not this next Monday, but the Monday after that,” Childers said.

If they were already enrolled in the state’s system, but were waiting on the new, more stringent ID requirements to be set up, then officials said those claims would be quickly distributed once individuals are verified.

“Those would be turned around today,” Preston said.

When Congress passed new coronavirus funding in December, it called on states to alter their data input systems to guard against fraudulent claims, which were rampant earlier last year when the first round of pandemic relief was administered. Childers said DWS and its software vendor originally estimated system updates would be complete by February 8, 2021. However, with increased worktime and increased staffing, she said Arkansas was able to reopen the PUA system more than a week earlier than expected.

Participants seeking assistance will have a new ID verification requirement that calls for all claimants to verify their ID to qualify for PUA benefits either in-person or through the new link online. All claimants must submit documentation substantiating employment, self-employment, or the planned commencement of employment or self-employment to qualify for PUA benefits. Documents must be submitted within 21 days for applications on or after February 1, 2021.

Claimants must file weekly claims and verify their ID each week prior to payment of benefits.

To file a new application or to continue filing weekly claims, visit Sunday – Saturday, 6am – 6pm. Individuals who require assistance may visit or call 844-908-2178 Monday – Saturday, 6am – 6pm.

Preston said the benefits that some of the 60,000 out of work may qualify for add up to $432 per week. That could cost the state $25.9 million weekly. The money is coming from federal funds passed during the last week in December.

At the state level, Arkansas’ unemployment trust fund has a balance of more than $792 million and the federal funds are paying for the current unemployment needs.

Preston said he doesn’t expect employers to have to bear the brunt of an increase in their rates because of the state fund’s health.

“We’re fairly strong, thanks to the legislature,” he said. “I don’t anticipate a hike for employers… there are some bills that are floating out there at the legislature that will address that.”

Two state lawmakers, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, and Rep. Joe Jett, R-Success, have filed a bill to exempt those receiving unemployment from having to pay state income taxes on those benefits.