Backlog in unemployment claims has some waiting on checks

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — More than 42,000 people have filed for unemployment in South Dakota since March 21.

The Labor Department had no way to prepare for such an onslaught of claims and that’s caused a few problems. Some people who filed for unemployment weeks ago are still waiting for a check.

“It wasn’t a very good joke,” Diana Solem said.

On April 1, Solem showed up at her job as an administrative assistant for a trucking company to find out she was being laid off.

“It was scary. I guess I don’t even know what I was thinking initially. I was shocked. I prepare things for payroll and that kind of thing, so I thought my job was fairly important,” Solem said.

Diana Solem of Sioux Falls has been waiting for weeks for unemployment benefits

She filed for unemployment that very same day. The Department of Labor says on average it takes 14 days to get the first payment. More than six weeks later, Solem is still waiting for her check.

“I’ve called the Department of Labor at least once a week, sometimes twice a week. Minimum you sit on hold for anywhere from an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. They don’t really know anything. They tell you that you’ve submitted everything correctly, but that’s all they can tell,” Solem said.

Response to Diana Solem from SD Dept. of Labor

“There can be a variety of reasons why a claim might be held up. It could be we need to get wages from another state. There could be a disagreement over if an individual was fired or let go. They could have vacation pay they reported. Really there is a whole set of different reasons based on unique circumstances we have to look into and those are the types of things that can hold up claims,” Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman said.

Hultman has been with the Department of Labor for 22 years, the last six as labor secretary. She says there was nothing that could have prepared them for the onslaught of claims.

We didn’t have any time to add staff, we didn’t have any time to gear up for it and additionally there’s three new federal programs, so it’s not like we’re processing claims like we’ve always processed claims.

Marcia Hultman, South Dakota Secretary of Labor

“I get it. I know what it’s like to be extremely busy. But we still need some answers. There’s a lot of people waiting for money; money that’s owed to us,” Solem said.

Hultman says they are making progress to cut the wait times on the phones and make filing easier.
But Solem is worried about her own survival.

“I did have to borrow a little bit of money to just get by through the month. I have had several surgeries in last couple of years and have a lot of medical bills,” Solem said.

“We are really working diligently. The good news is our backlog is decreased and so in the next two weeks, we’ll make great headway to be able to get those payments made for individuals who have been waiting,” Hultman said.

Solem has also been going out on interviews this week to try to find a new job.

South Dakota has paid out $28 million in unemployment claims since March 16.

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