SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The number of people filing for unemployment is dropping in the state, from a high of more than 25,000 claims a week in early May to just under 16,000 claims a week at the end of June.
KELOLAND Investigates began looking into the backlog for claims in May. The wait continues for many.
Between state and federal unemployment funds, South Dakotans have received nearly $212 million in benefits. But KELOLAND Investigates has discovered the money isn’t getting to everyone who has been approved for it.
Raheem Rice is a single dad of three boys. He’s enrolled in the entrepreneurship program at the University of Sioux Falls. He had a job working for the Census, but when COVID-19 hit, the office shut down and he was told to file for unemployment.
Rice: Other people I know got it right away. But now it’s been about 14 weeks and I haven’t received it yet.
Angela Kennecke: So you were approved?
Kennecke: But you haven’t seen a dime.
Rice: I haven’t seen a dollar.
Kennecke: In 14 weeks? Rice: No.
Rice has struggled to pay his mortgage and care for his children. He’s quickly depleting his savings.
“I just wanted to know. The worst thing you can have is hope in this situation. Can you just give me a yes or a no?” Rice said.
“They made one payment and since then, I’ve been on hold,” Jen Jones said
Jones is also waiting on unemployment payments. She and Rice are members of the Facebook Group, SD Unemployment Problems, along with more than 60 other people.
In Jones’ case, she started her own educational business in January, with after-school LEGO building classes to teach STEM.
“Things are going well. I was even on KELOLAND Living in February. We did the Valentine’s things,” Jones said.
Schools and other venues shutting down put her business on hold and now she’s dealing with the hold-up in benefits.
Jones: I’ve been told by several people in the system that there’s a clerical error. That I’m coded as a teacher; that teacher’s aren’t eligible. They see the error, but they can’t fix it.
Kennecke: You can’t get anyone to fix it?
Jones: No, I’ve called the governor’s office. I’ve called unemployment.
Kennecke: Did you get any answers at all?
Jones: They tell me to be patient.
Kennecke: Can you be patient?
Jones: I’m wondering how I’m going to pay my rent on August first. I’m out of options.
Jones relied on help from the One Sioux Falls Fund and family to make her rent payments this spring and summer.
On May 15, SD Secretary of Labor Marcia Hultman told us:
“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.
Two months later, people like Jones and Rice aren’t buying it.
“Why can’t people get a status update on where they are in a queue; where they’re at in processing. What’s the estimate for how long? One of the themes that is really common in our Facebook group is, ‘If they would just tell me the truth about where I’m at and how much longer it would take, I could plan my life,'” Jones said.
“They say everything should be approved. There should be no issue why I shouldn’t be able to receive any funds and that they should back pay,” Rice said.
“This is a serious issue. It needs to be resolved,” Jones said.
KELOLAND Investigates repeatedly asked the Department of Labor for an on-camera interview about these ongoing issues, but those requests were ignored.
We told the state about the Facebook group and now some members of the public group say they are being contacted by the DOL with news that their cases are getting attention.
DOL did provide us with some updated information on the money paid out in claims as well as the appeals process for those denied.
KELOLAND Investigates is going to continue to follow this issue with the case of a Dakota Dunes nurse who lost her job when school shut down. She filed for unemployment, but it was denied and she went through the appeals process. Find out how that turned out, Friday night as our investigation continues.