By Esme Murphy

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans are out of work.

The state got the go-ahead Wednesday to provide an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance for those with unemployment benefits about to expire.

More than 450,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits, and the state has said that 90% of those cases have been processed smoothly. But there are others who tell WCCO their benefits applications have not been processed smoothly.

Many calls to DEED end in a busy signal. If callers do get through, they are advised there will be a wait. Pianist Mindy Eschedor was one of those callers.

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“I get a busy signal every time, and I would say I checked it for about a four-hour window on Monday, Tuesday, and I’m in the process of doing that again today,” Eschedor said.

And hair stylist Alex Jost has had similar problems.

“I’ve been calling every single day now between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and it doesn’t even put me in a cue, it just says ‘busy’ and it hangs up on me,” Jost said.

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove says they are getting between 5,000 to 7,000 calls a day, and say they have staffed up phone lines dramatically

“We’re now working seven days a week on this challenge, as we should be,” Grove said. “We’ve hired 50 staff temporarily to take additional phone calls. We’ve posted another 20 job openings just yesterday.”

DEED continues to maintain they are working to get to all the calls, and that with better staffing things will eventually improve. But that is little comfort to those trying to get through and get all their critical benefits.

DEED says it’s hoping to get approval from the federal government to provide benefits to more self-employed workers. The department say those who are self-employed should apply, and even if they get denied at this time, they could end up receiving benefits later.

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Esme Murphy

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