Laid off workers push for increased jobless benefits in Louisiana, urge Congress to extend federal stipend

State pushing for unemployment benefits expansion

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Some people who have lost employment due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic joined forces at the state legislature to push for increases in how much Louisiana doles out in jobless benefits and to urge state lawmakers to lobby Congress for an extension of the federal weekly stipend being provided to jobless Americans.

Louise Francis said she worked in New Orleans’ hospitality industry until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I was a banquet cook for 20 years,” she said.

So far, she says she has not received a penny in unemployment benefits, either state or federal.

“Nothing, I’m not getting nothing right now,” said Francis. “Well, my daughters are helping me, yeah.”

She prefers financial independence.

“I’ve been pending almost three months, my claim’s been pending,” said Francis.

Will Walker said he is getting jobless benefits, but the loss of his job is still affecting him.

“Yeah, it’s causing a lot of stress,” said Walker.

He too was working in New Orleans’ tourism industry.

“I was employed as a bartender at the New Orleans Convention Center and the last day of work was after the Zulu Ball,” said Walker.

He and Francis joined others at the state capitol to fight for more help for the unemployed as part of an effort by the grassroots group, Step Up Louisiana.

“I’m a homeowner and I’ve been on that job 20 years and everything, but I’m not going to give up,” said Francis in her quest for jobless benefits.

The House Labor Committee heard a series of measures sponsored by Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, but only was approved and sent to the full House for consideration. It requests the La. Workforce Commission to identify ways to improve wait times for those filing jobless claims.

“I hear a lot of stories about how COVID has impacted certain folks,” James said.

The maximum state payment to the unemployed is $247 a week and LWC Ava DeJoie said they are constantly working to reduce wait lines for those who want to make claims.

The agency provided FOX 8 information stating that all payments posting from LWC for March 22 to June 24, 2020 total $3,546,954,138.98 and on average the LWC pays out $40 to $50 million each week. It says by the end of this week, the UI trust fund balance is projected to be at $550 million dollars and if no changes in the number of claims or funds available were made, the unemployment trust fund has enough solvency to last the next 10 to 14 weeks.

Further it says, based on U.S. Department of Labor data, LWC had roughly 305,000 certifications for the week ending June 6; 276,000 payments and the agency says up to 91% of the weekly certifications were paid.

Additionally, it says due to an uptick in identity theft around the country it requires those seeking benefits to upload identification documents into their “HIRE” profile to ensure that the state is not paying people who are committing fraud. LWC says that requirement can sometimes slow the process of individuals being paid.

The agency says in addition to the outside calling centers, it has contacted 187,452 people. And the LWC says it understands that people are continuing to have issues trying to reach the unemployment insurance call center and recommends dialing the center in the morning or closer to its closing time. The phone number is 1-866-783-5567 Monday through Friday, and the unemployment call center hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Will Walker said without unemployment benefits it would be difficult to survive financially.
Will Walker said without unemployment benefits it would be difficult to survive financially. (Source: WVUE)

Walker and Francis believe it is critical that the federal government not allow the $600 a week stipend for the unemployed to expire at the end of July as planned.

“Knowing that they’re taking back, or maybe cutting the $600 and knowing that my rent is almost $800, and my bills rounds up into $300, it’s like devastating,” said Walker.

Francis said even though she has not received any benefits yet, she is counting on the federal funds.

“I never started receiving mine’s but right now I don’t want to be left out because I want my $600 and we need it. That will take us out of poverty, it’ll help us because with that extra $600, {and} $247 at least we can live, we can pay water bill, light bill, we can put food on the table,” Francis stated.

She added that she and many others in New Orleans struggled to get back on their feet after Hurricane Katrina and now they are amid a financial storm.

“I hope the federal government, the legislature, everybody see because they think we just out here trying to play with it, no, we see a little light at the end of the tunnel and right now I’m struggling,” said Francis. Walker said the assistance is absolutely needed to help people survive.

“Be honest with you, I believe I would be in poverty and I believe it’s going to raise crime because people are going to do what they got to do to survive,” he said.

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