OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Department of Labor announced, as of today, around 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Many in Nebraska still have yet to see any of those benefits come through.
To help speed up the process, Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a new executive order and encouraged people to keep applying.
As local restaurants prepare to slowly reopen...some restaurant workers still haven't received their unemployment benefits. The state's goal was to process 75 percent of claims in 21 to 28 days.
"We're probably not meeting my 75 percent goal," said Commissioner of Labor John Albin.
Maggie Vankat says she applied for unemployment on March 18 when she was let go from a restaurant in Omaha. She received her benefits one day ago.
"I think the hardest part was, really...thinking every single week, ‘Oh this will be the week and then next week saying, 'No, this will be the week,’” Vankat said.
She said getting in touch with someone from the Nebraska Department of Labor was nearly impossible.
"There's an online chat option as well and I tried that once too and I was told I was on the waiting list and it would be like 2,800 minutes before anyone could contact me and eventually after you wait long enough, the page just shuts down anyways,” she said.
Sommer Palmer worked at a restaurant in Benson. She was let go in mid-March as well and had to take care of her 1-year-old son with no steady income and no benefits for over a month and a half.
"I was really short on cash through that whole time. I was scrambling for money," she said.
The reason for the backlog on claims is due to the record number of filings at once. The Department of Labor has had trouble keeping up despite hiring more personnel.
"I do think it would've helped if they would've been realistic with people, ‘This is really what we're looking at, this is what you can expect,’" she said.
At a press conference on Thursday, Albin and Ricketts announced a new executive order that should help these claims process faster by only looking at a person's last place of employment, not their entire history.
Ricketts said, "So we're waiving that statute to allow the team and the Department of Labor to just do the last employer. That will allow us to pick up the pace and process these claims in a much more timely manner."
The executive order will also apply to those who have already filed, and the labor commissioner hopes to get this new, faster way of processing kicked off in the next few days. It will also allow people to claim unemployment as far back as March 15.
"I think it's going to be a substantial improvement in the process," said Albin.
So as restaurants start opening back up, employees can still focus on still filing for unemployment or returning back to work.