You may remember my last blog post documenting the chaos ongoing at the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and its utter failure to accommodate claims by self-employed workers for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Earlier this morning, I was on hold for over a half hour at which point the line went dead, a continuation of what is assuredly an endlessly futile effort to speak with a human at the state’s DWS offices on behalf of Bill, my neighbor who is owed, according to DWS policies, for claims going back to November 2020.
Bill and I learned back in January that no further PUA claims would be accepted until they had verified his identity. Nothing in their materials explained how to verify his identity but rather stated that he would be notified by mail or email as to the procedure.
A month later on Saturday February 13, Bill told me that he had received a letter from DWS demanding that he verify his ID within 7 days of the date on the letter. The letter was dated February 6. 7 + 6 = 13
On Monday, Feb. 15, Bill managed to wait on hold long enough to speak with someone at DWS on a phone number given to him by a friend, NOT the phone numbers listed for DWS. The man who answered the call took Bill’s information, verified him, and gave him a password so that he (I) could access his PUA account at arunemployment.com. It did not work.
Here’s the Feb. 15 follow-up email I wrote for Bill to the info email address for DWS
Regarding your recommendation via telephone on Feb 15, 2021, I am attaching photo of myself with ID card plus photo of ID card front and back. You gave me a temporary password of –xxx– but I can’t access the PUA claim page at www.pua.arkansas.gov/home. It won’t open. Is there a different web address I should use?
Please note that this email and all my access to the internet is through my neighbor, Denele Campbell, and her computer. She sent a letter this morning to your info email ADWS.Info@arkansas.gov The letter states:
“Your letter dated Feb 6 to –xxx– was received Feb 13 by Mr. –xxx–. The letter requires him to present his state-issued ID at the local workforce center within 7 days of the date on the letter.
“THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE. Not only did he not receive the letter within 7 days, our roads are impassable and will be impassable at least another 7 days.
Ms. Campbell has been the person filing Mr. –xxx–‘s PUA claims because HE DOESN’T HAVE A COMPUTER OR INTERNET. HIS PHONE DOESN’T HAVE DATA — when he can afford to have the phone working. He is desperately in need of money because he’s a self-employed construction worker and COVID has kept him away from most jobs for the last year.”
You may respond to me through Ms. Campbell’s email or on my phone at —.
No big surprise that the email did not result in a response until Feb. 22, at which point the following email came through.
Please contact the hotline number 1-844-908-2178. They are open from 6am to 4pm Monday through Saturday. Please use the following emails below if you cannot reach anyone by phone.
Dear Reader, you may remember that telephone number. It is the unemployment hotline. For over three weeks, I’ve been dialing that number and waiting on hold for hours at a time, to no avail. Try it yourself for a fun time! Be sure to press #2 and #2 on the menu for PUA assistance.
Finally, last Friday the 19th after the roads were semi-passable, Bill drove to the Fayetteville DWS office and waited along with a very long line of other people standing outside in the freezing temps. He got there early enough to be #7 in line and soon sat face to face with a human who typed some info into his computer and told Bill he was now verified.
There is no accounting for the previous verification email we sent to DWS. Obviously whoever receives emails is so far behind they did not register the verification we sent within the five days that passed before he appeared in person at the local DWS office to – again – verify.
Now that he’s verified both by email and his in-person verification, I returned to the PUA webpage at DWS. The page won’t open.
Here’s today’s email to DWS:
I am the neighbor of PUA claimant –XXX–. Last year I filed his weekly claims. As of mid-January 2021, I could no longer access his account. Information from the DWS website informed us that until his identity was verified, he (I) would not be able to access the account. Those instructions said he would receive an email or letter telling him how to verify.
A month later on Feb. 13, he received a letter stating that he had seven days from the data on the letter to verify in person at the local DWS office. The letter was dated Feb 6. We were under eight inches of snow with subzero temperatures at the time. So I emailed photos of his state-issued ID front and back plus a photo of him holding the ID beside his face. No response.
On Feb. 19, Mr. X stood in a line at the Fay’vl DWS office until they had an opening at which point a DWS worker took his ID and information and told him he was now verified. Apparently the Feb 15 email identification information had not been processed into the system as of five days after it was sent.
Upon the Feb 19 verification, the DWS employee stated that he could now access his PUA account at the DWS unemployment site.
WRONG. The website will not open. I AM THE ONE WHO HAS TO FILE HIS CLAIMS. HE DOES NOT HAVE A COMPUTER.
What is the problem? I can’t spend even more hours on hold waiting for a real person to answer the phone. The Fay’vl DWS office says they don’t handle anything to do with PUA except to verify IDs.
Why is it beyond the capacity of the State of Arkansas to gear up for this ridiculous situation by adding more hotline numbers and more personnel to handle what is obviously a large number of people who need help????????
Can somebody please HELP me gain website access for Mr. –xxx—so that he can file his PUA claims?
It’s difficult to imagine how incompetent (also, how understaffed) DWS must be for these kinds of dead ends to continue. The process runs in perpetual loops. It’s not that expensive to add more hotline numbers, but I suspect the problem is that even with only one hotline number, there isn’t enough staff to handle the call volume.
Same holds true for responses to emails from people who need help. There is NO EXCUSE for this level of dysfunction at a state agency charged with providing a lifeline to people who can’t work. Bill picked up a short-term construction job two weeks ago – working on a roof in freezing temperatures – before the snowpocalypse kept him at home for a week.
By the way, I’m now on hold again. For the last half hour. Bill’s phone has been shut off and he’s living on money from pawning tools. Tools that he uses to earn income.