The Louisiana Workforce Commission this past week processed an extra $300 in payments for 139,300 unemployed individuals across the state — totaling $41 million.
The payments were a continuation of $300 in weekly payments coming from the federal government — approved in late December as part of a coronavirus relief package for the unemployed. That's on top of the up to $247 per week the state pays unemployed residents.
Another 30,000 residents are still waiting for a decision about whether they qualify for the extra $300 federal payment.
The new coronavirus relief package requires additional identity verification, especially for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, one that helps self-employed and independent contractors. They previously were only required to self-certify income and are now required to provide tax documentation up front.
"It may or may not be an identity issue," Ava Dejoie, secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday of the 30,000 who are waiting for a decision. "We implemented new identity verification back in November after a large-scale fraud attempt and it's something other states were experiencing as well. ID verification is now required for all claims," she said.
Sometimes issues with identity verification arise, such as documentation provided to the state does not have the same address being provided in the unemployment claim, she said.
The state agency has fielded more than 70,000 phone calls from residents this week, a significant spike compared to recent weeks.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission has 300 individuals working to process unemployment claims and three contract call centers. Employees are expected to be working nights and weekends starting on Monday to parse through all the outstanding claims, many of which include identity verification uploaded to the state's website. Individuals should expect to receive calls from a phone number with no CallerID since the state call center uses a computer system to dial.
"Our goal is to get payments out the door," Dejoie said, but that the agency has responsibility to curb any potential fraud attempts.
There was a surge in new unemployment claims for the week ending Jan. 2 when more than 22,000 new applications flooded the system. Officials said that surge was prompted by the extra $300 payment and some individuals applying more than once.
In contrast, during a spike over a two-week period seen in mid-November, many of those were thought to be fraudulent efforts to tap jobless benefits.
At that time, state officials halted new claim payments for applications submitted after Nov. 5 and are investigating tens of thousands of suspicious claims for fraud after 60,000 new claims were filed over a two-week period. Dozens of residents across the state had found approval letters for unemployment claims they did not file and sometimes even debit cards for benefits, prompting the investigation.
The state is still investigating any suspicious claims. Out of 100,000 claims for which further information such as identity verification was requested, more than 80,000 did not respond. The remaining 20,000 claims are still being processed.
A new frequently asked questions page was created by LWC about unemployment benefits.