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Trouble filing unemployment? Here’s why many are having issues and how Mississippi is working to fix it.

For many, getting a person on the other end of the phone has been a struggle. Other got through but their claims were denied.
For many in Mississippi, getting a person on the other end of the phone at MDES has been a...
For many in Mississippi, getting a person on the other end of the phone at MDES has been a struggle. Other got through but their claims were denied.(MS Dept. of Employment)
Updated: Apr. 10, 2020 at 9:32 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLOX) - Thousands of people across Mississippi are frustrated as they try to file unemployment claims.

Gov. Tate Reeves addressed the issues with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security during his daily press conference Thursday, asking people to please be patient.

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“The money will be based on when you lost your job, not when you filed,” said Reeves. “You will get your money that you’re entitled to... We see you, we hear you, we will help you. We will not let you down. We will get our economy back.”

For many, getting a person on the other end of the phone has been a struggle, with some spending hours - and even days! - repeatedly calling to try and file an unemployment claim.

Many people say they were finally able to get a claim filed online but were denied.

Many people who may not qualify for unemployment under typical circumstances will now qualify under the new state and federal guidelines in place due to the pandemic.

However, the MDES technology is not updated with that information yet. So when people file online claims, said Turner, they are being automatically denied because the computer system is basing the information off of the usual requirements.

“The programming is not in place in the program yet," said Turner. "Since we haven’t had a disaster like pandemic unemployment, the programming has not been loaded into the system yet. We are tweaking the programs.”

MDES is working diligently to upgrade the technology so that qualifications for pandemic benefits are available. In the meantime, Turner urges people to be patient, wait for the new technology upgrades, and then re-apply.

“The question has come up for those people that fit into that category: Should I file now or later? There’s no wrong answer... You can do either one. A person can go ahead and file, knowing that they most likely will not qualify under the regular unemployment insurance program," said Turner.

“When you mark what kind of worker you are, there’s a place for 1099′s or some specific boxes that you check that will identify you as this kind of worker. Understand that until the programming is there, it’s going to tell you that you do not qualify for unemployment insurance. Some of you have already done that, and that’s okay. We will reach back with queries and pick you up. I think the preferred method for us would be that you wait.”

For many, even logging on to the MDES website to begin the claims process has been an issue.

“There have been many challenges along the way with passwords and password resets and call center calls," said Turner. "We are working on that... And quite honestly, we have learned some ways through this process that we can do it better and more efficiently. Our IT staff is working feverishly with contractors and sales and coming up with ways to reach back and find those who might have had an issue to begin with.”

The state is working hard to resolve the issues, said Gov. Reeves, adding that MDES in the process of hiring 100 additional staff members and over 100 temporary workers. Those workers will help people file claims and answer calls in the MDES call center. MDES has also extended services to seven a day a week.

For the second week in a row, more than six million unemployment claims were filed across the country.

“One in 10 Americans lost their jobs,” said Reeves on Thursday. “That has happened in the last three weeks. I believe the true damage is greater than that. It’s happening everywhere but it’s definitely happening (in Mississippi), as well. We’re going to fix it.”

Unemployment claims are up 8,000 percent from last month, according to the Department of Labor. That’s 8,000 percent more work for MDES and its employees, said Reeves.

“It’s created a tremendous spike for the program,” said Turner. “Despite some people having difficulty, many are getting through; 87,000 individuals have filed their initial claims in the last few weeks and got through.”

For those Mississippians who were able to file an unemployment claim, they may see those benefits as soon as April 10.

“It’s going to come really soon... It will be a state amount with the $600 added to it," explained Turner. "The $600 part of all these payments, it’s important to know that it’s all federally funded. The additional weeks of drawing benefits... will be based on a case by case basis on whether you have exhausted those benefits before and fall under one of those categories of regular unemployment or PUA - pandemic unemployment assistance - whether you qualify to receive benefits for the additional weeks.”

Gov. Reeves said they are working on several measures to help put money in the hands of those who have lost their jobs, including working with lawyers to ask for an additional executive order.

Reeves issued Executive Order 1426 on March 21, making it easier for more people to file unemployment claims. Namely, the order removed the one-week waiting period that is usually required, as well as the work search requirements and collection activities.

Unemployment claims can be made by calling MDES at 1-888-844-3577.

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