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THE INVESTIGATORS: LWC Secretary addresses delays, complaints as agency tackles unemployment claims

Updated: Jan. 8, 2021 at 10:13 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The head of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) is acknowledging the problems that many recipients have expressed with the agency and asking for patience while they work to address them.

“This is not a matter of privilege. It’s a matter of rights,” said Michael Hampton.

Those depending on unemployment tell WAFB they are not getting their payments and when they call, they face long wait times or no help at all. Michael Hampton filed a lawsuit in EBR 19th JDC this week after he says he has been left hanging by the agency.

“It’s not just the runaround for me. I’m not getting anything... absolutely nothing,” said Hampton.

Hampton was laid off back in March after years of working at the Raising Canes River Center. He says he was getting benefits for a while but then they suddenly stopped because LWC needed to verify his identity. After he gave them what they needed, he claims his benefits never started back up and he was left with no choice but the file a lawsuit.

“I’m 47 years old. All my life I worked for everything I got. Nobody ever gave me anything,” Hampton said. “I’ve always worked and fought for everything that I’ve gotten and I don’t plan on stopping yet.”

Another man who lives in Reserve but did not want to be identified told the 9News Investigators he has missed about six weeks of benefits. His online portal appears to show the benefits are processed through the agency but none of the money has been paid out.

“You’re just stuck waiting,” the man said. “They ask you to verify this and verify your identity and then you send that and it’s still on hold.”

He says he has been on hold with LWC for hours and has actually lost count of how many times he’s called looking for answers.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie if the criticism of the agency is fair and what she is doing to fix it.

“Well in this week alone, we’ve received I believe upwards of 70,000 calls,” said Dejoie. “In all of December we’ve received 40,000 calls and while we have staff working on the phone lines constantly and also our outside call centers, the sheer volume is not something that you can certainly have enough people to cover say 30,000 calls in one day.”

Dejoie says she recognizes the problems but stands firm that her team has been doing whatever they can to get those benefits out the door.

“I’ve seen the team working 18 hours a day, day in and day out for the last nine months doing everything they possibly can,” she added.

This week alone, the agency has paid out more than $41 million to 140,000 folks across the state. The Secretary says one of the biggest roadblocks they have faced is lawmakers on Capitol Hill who came down to the wire to push through another round of relief back in December.

“It’s like going into a game without knowing who your opponent is or what the rules of the game are or really what you’re going to be playing so given those circumstances, there’s always room for Monday morning quarterbacking but I’m very proud of the team,” said Dejoie.

As for the long wait times, the head of LWC says they’ve hired about 300 more staff members working out of three different call centers to power through those cases as quickly as they can.

“We know that we have tremendous hold times but we are asking for the patience of the public,” said Dejoie.

As they continue to process those claims, some say their patience is running thin.

Dejoie did not comment on the pending lawsuit filed against LWC but said anyone who has questions about their claims should contact them through their online Hire portal.

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