News 8 gets some of your coronavirus unemployment benefits questions answered by Department of Labor

Connecticut

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Two months since the pandemic shutdowns and frustration continues to build as hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents try to file for unemployment.

You’ve contacted News 8 about missed payments from the Department of Labor, computer system lockouts, fears over going back to work next week, but above all, many of you say you just can’t get anyone from DOL to address your concerns.

So News 8 took those questions straight to the brass at DOL ourselves.

“It’s not a comforting thought that your state says ‘we’re going to help you’ [and] – when I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do – [to] not to get a response is very aggravating,” said self-employed daycare provider, Robin McKinnon.

RELATED: ‘I felt left out’: Self-employed now able to apply for second phase of unemployment benefits after weeks of waiting

There is growing anger among jobless benefits seekers who say they’re dealing with hours-long wait times, phones ringing off the hook, and hundreds of tries before they get through to a live person at the Department of Labor for help with the unemployment claims.

Many say they have issues with the benefits portal that a live staffer needs to address. Like McKinnon, viewers say they’re running out of time.

“I have a special needs daughter here who I can’t do anything with because I don’t know where my finances are coming from,” she said.

On a Thursday conference call, News 8 asked the Department of Labor for answers.

“One woman told me she called 250 times repeatedly until somebody finally picked up. So I want to ask what can people do to reach someone who can help them?” asked our reporter.

“It’s our hope that by the end of next week or into the following week it will be more functional and be able to assist more people when they’re calling in,” said Deputy Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo.

RELATED: Self-employed, freelancers applying for unemployment amid pandemic struggle with DOL application process

To do that DOL says they’re adding staff:

  • Adding 15 people at the general call line within a week and a half. That means a total of 40 people answering calls.
  • Those workers will also be trained to go into the UI system and fix common issues–something they haven’t been able to do.
  • For federal programs – including the self-employed portal – training 12 more staff to respond to emails. Right now there’s only 3. 
  • In June, a total of 60 more staffers will be added for that program and the federal unemployment benefits extension program–a system that goes up by May 20.

“I’m self-employed, I’m widowed, I care for two young adults with disabilities. And every penny counts,” said education consultant Muncie Kardos.

Last year, Kardos worked briefly for a summer school program. She says she was denied the full self-employed unemployment benefits (PUA) because of that 5-week stint, even though it makes up just a fraction of her yearly income.

Because it’s on the record from three quarters ago, that’s what they’re basing my benefit on,” she said.

But the DOL says they’re following federal rules.

“If someone is eligible for even one dollar of the state benefit, they are not eligible for the federal benefit. And that was a stipulation that came to us,” said Bartolomeo.

For workers who go back on the job next week, but may not make nearly what they used to earn because of customer capacity restrictions or other pandemic-related limitations, the DOL tells us while full-time employees may lose their benefits, part-time workers should still file weekly and could receive benefits, and so may the self-employed such as business owners.

And for workers who refuse to go back to work either because of childcare, schooling, safety or other issues, many tell us they want to know if they will still get their unemployment benefits. The DOL says that it will be determined on a case-by-case basis for now. They’re working with the governor’s office and federal DOL to come up with a broader plan. No word on a timeline for when any new policy may be unveiled. 

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