Nebraska struggles to process flood of unemployment claims

Posted at 6:06 PM, May 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-03 19:06:03-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska officials are struggling to keep up with the flood of unemployment claims that have been filed since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin said the state has been adding workers and streamlining its processes, but there have still been unacceptable delays that left workers waiting for their checks.

“I apologize if anyone’s been out there waiting a long time,” Albin said to the Omaha World-Herald for a story published Sunday. “I don’t know that it’s any comfort but we’re not meeting our own standards on this.”

Since March 8, the state has received 129,309 new unemployment claims, which is more that the total claims filed during the three previous years combined. The state has processed 96,024 of those claims, but that leaves 33,000 requiring a response.

Albin said the state normally tries to process all new jobless claims within 21 days. During this crisis, the Department of Labor is trying to process 75% of applications within 28 days, but has fallen short of that goal.

Jessica Wagner of Fremont said she’s frustrated after waiting more than a month for her unemployment claim to be approved.

“If we cannot count on Nebraska to assist with benefits our employers have paid in on during times of crisis, when can we count on them?” she wrote in a letter to the World-Herald.

The state has increased the number of claims adjusters from 34 to 166 by drafting workers from other departments to help, and has signed a $1.7 million contract with Nelnet in Lincoln to add 100 more to help handle claims.

Nebraska officials also contracted with North End Teleservices in Omaha for $1.3 million to add 36 people to answer phone calls and live chat inquiries, but they have struggled to keep up with the volume of calls.

The governor signed an order last week that should help streamline the process for workers who had multiple employers during the period before they became unemployed. Albin estimated that’s 40% of the people filing claims.

The state usually collects information from all those employers before approving a claim, but that has been difficult with so many businesses closed. The governor’s order allows unemployment claims to be approved with information only from a person’s most recent employer.

“We’re hustling like crazy on this,” Albin said. “One way or another, we’re going to get there.”

State health officials said the number of confirmed virus cases increased by 488 to 5,326 this weekend, and three additional deaths were reported. Nebraska has now had 76 deaths linked to COVID-19. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher, because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.