INDIANA (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Almost a quarter of a million unemployment vouchers have been filed by Hoosiers since last Wednesday. That adds up to about $54 million in unemployment benefits being distributed this week alone.
It all ties back into the federally funded extensions Congress reauthorized in late August. Workforce development officials say since November of last year, there have been five federally funded extensions to unemployment benefits beyond the traditional 26 weeks of benefits provided by the state.
In June, those five extensions expired when Congress failed to reauthorize them, but in July that all changed when Congress passed the reauthorization. That meant states had to go back and retroactively restore eligibility and benefits.
Officials estimated 80,000 Hoosiers would be eligible to file 250,000 claims for weekly benefits. Since Wednesday, 70,000 Hoosiers have filed 220,000 claims amounting to some $54 million in benefits. Officials say the average weekly payout is about 300-dollars.
The unfiled vouchers, officials say, likely belong to Hoosiers who found a job, still plan on filing later this week, or need to apply in person at a WorkOne Center.
At Fort Wayne's WorkOne Center Tuesday, people were waiting hours in line for their chance to file an extension. Melinda Eastom and her husband were part of that crowd. Eastom says, "I'm very excited because right now we have no income. His last payment today was $16. And we have four people who live in our house, we have two kids. And how are we going to provide for our two kids?"
Eastom says her family needs the unemployment benefits to get by. She says she applies for jobs all the time, but there just aren't any available. She says she hopes she and her husband still qualify for the vouchers. "We don't even know for sure if we're going to qualify for it, so that's why we're down here today and there's a two hour wait already."
Jessica Hill, another person waiting to file an extension of benefits voucher, says it was a big inconvenience when Congress initially decided not to extend benefits."They cut us off in the middle of getting our unemployment, and it was just stressful because we ran out of stuff. And then to come down here and find out that we might not be able to get unemployment again, it was stressful."
If someone files this week, officials say they'll get their cash through Workforce Development's completely online filing system within 48 hours. Those benefits are also now paid through a debit card, so there is no waiting on a check in the mail.
With the exception of some website problems in the past few days, the Department of Workforce Development seems to be handling the surge pretty well. More than 1,500 Hoosiers filed on Monday alone. To help out with the increased work load, WorkOne Centers are extending their hours this week. They will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Friday this week.
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