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National Guard to assist with backlog of pandemic unemployment assistance

The Arkansas National Guard is being called upon to help process Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims. On Monday (March 8), the director of the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, Dr. Charisse Childers, made the announcement during the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus meeting.

Childers and Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston updated members on the status of a variety of programs including the state’s PUA system. Content partner KATV reported one week ago that as many as 30,000 Arkansans have PUA claims that remain in limbo.

Within the next three weeks, Childers said the National Guard will be stepping in to help process PUA at local offices. “Those individuals will be placed in our local offices throughout the state, they will be helping with ID verification events that we expect to do on Saturdays,” Childers added.

She was not sure yet just how many would be assigned to local unemployment offices, but Childers added the governor is currently discussing funding for those individuals. A schedule of which Saturdays this would occur has not been released or determined.

Childers also announced a new way for PUA claimants to verify their identifications. Currently, hundreds are either waiting in line at local offices for hours to have a photo ID scanned or they are receiving an email with a unique URL to upload their ID.

As KATV has previously reported, Arkansans who have received that email and uploaded their ID ended up having to visit an office – regardless of the electronic upload – after receiving a letter stating they needed to do so. Some have said they uploaded their IDs and unemployment office workers couldn’t find record of it.

Rep. David Fielding, D-Magnolia, highlighted similar issues his constituents are having.

“A lot of the problems I’m sending you are repeat – saying the same thing. Go to the office, show their ID, then they get back to, well we don’t have it,” Fielding described.

Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, highlighted the low number of workers dedicated to PUA processing. Fielding also asked Childers why ADWS only has one person at the Ouachita County unemployment office processing PUA. Childers responded by saying that’s the only person they have trained at that office. She also said they are fully staffed in their PUA department, except those who are receiving hotline calls being managed by a third-party company hired by the state.

“What is troubling to me is, we are relying on almost exclusively on Internet access and so many places like the one in which Representative Fielding is referring don’t have it. That’s my biggest concern,” said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.

“We’re looking at, hopefully within the next couple of weeks, we will have it so that an individual can log into their PUA account and they can do that from their smartphone,” Childers explained. “Then they can click on the link that’s in their PUA account – that would be specific to them – and then they can verify their identification there using their smartphone.”

After the caucus meeting, Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said she was not satisfied with how the program is run. “I’m not at all satisfied that we are where we need to be. I feel still anxious and frustrated when it comes to the position that a lot of constituents and a lot of my colleagues’ constituents are in,” she said. “For me, there is no reason that justifies any of this,” Flowers said.

Editor’s note: Marine Glisovic is KATV’s senior political reporter.

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