Minnesotan expresses concerns about long wait for unemployment benefits

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In mid-March, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order closing some businesses to curb the spread of COVID-19. Salon owners have now been out of work for more than a month.

“None of us that are self-employed expected to be just out of work suddenly like that,” said Kathy Steidl, owner of Steel Magnolias Hair and Nails. “You always think of something major like, ‘Oh what if I broke my arm’ or health reasons, but not something like this where everyone is shut down.”

More than 605,000 Minnesotans have now filed for unemployment since March 16, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

The CARES Act allowed states to extend those benefits to self-employed individuals, independent contractors and others who wouldn’t be eligible otherwise. It’s called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA).

“I applied for unemployment benefits as soon as I heard, which was March 22,” Steidl said.

She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she’s still waiting to receive a payment. The state requested more information for her case, which Steidl said she mailed and faxed to DEED.

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“So I knew that they had everything and knew they got it,” she said. “Since then I have just not seen any changes to my account. It’s not updated, you can’t do anything. I continuously call in and don’t get any answers or can’t get through to the line. This has just gone on day after day.”

Last week, Commissioner Steve Grove said the state’s regular unemployment insurance program wasn’t set up to handle PUA applications. 

“We cannot use the same technology, data or processes that we use for regular UI to pay PUA benefits,” he said.

DEED has now partnered with the Department of Revenue to help expedite processing those applications. On April 24, the agency started making payments to more than 40,000 people under the PUA program.

When Steidl saw that payments had begun, she said she tried calling DEED again. 

"I’m going to get through if I have to sit here all day,” said Steidl. “Well guess what? That’s exactly what I did.”

She said she started calling at about 8 a.m. and wasn’t able to talk to someone until about 2 p.m., when she was told that a supervisor would need to delete her account and reenter the information.

“Now it’s Monday and I still haven’t heard anything back," she said. "It’ very frustrating. I’m at their mercy.”

After weeks without pay, Steidl told us she’s at a crisis point.

“We have no option,” she said. “We have literally been out of work, at moment’s notice shut down, and here we sit still waiting.”

Hundreds of people have commented on the DEED Facebook page, sharing similar concerns.

“Unemployment insurance is based off a series of questions to verify identity, determine eligibility and prevent fraud,” said Eric Lightner, DEED communications specialist. “Some people’s eligibility determinations are more complicated or require additional information to fully process. We know this is a challenging time and our team is working to process applications as fast as possible. DEED will proactively reach out to people if more information is needed to determine their eligibility.”

DEED is processing initial payments for most people within one to two weeks, according to Lightner. He said if you're concerned about your application, contact them here.