Tiffany Wilkson

Tiffany Wilkson says her pandemic-based unemployment benefits stopped after being told she may be eligible for regular claims. Photo by Afiq Hisham.

VAUGHN - After reaching out for weeks, one local says she has trouble filing for unemployment, as the state sees roughly 140,000 applications since the novel Coronavirus arrived in mid-March.

Tiffany Wilkson planned on working at the upcoming Sleep Inn & Mainstays Suites in Fox Farm after leaving another job last fall, but she had to go through unemployment after COVID-19 slowed down construction.

It hasn’t been easy, however, with Tiffany calling over one hundred times this week alone, each ending with beeps on the other line.

“Just constantly beep beep beep beep beep, it is always busy,” said Tiffany.

At first, workplace delays qualified her for pandemic-based relief, but she said that changed after a ‘minor hiccup’ with identity verification.

“I was able to get that cleared up, but now they’re saying that they’ve stopped my pandemic unemployment because I could potentially be eligible for a regular unemployment claim. Well that’s just not the case, I was already denied,” she said.

Amanda Lay, the bureau chief for Unemployment Insurance’s Claims Processing Center, said reviewing cases can get complex, since each one is uniquely different.

“Each claim requires individual attention,” explained the bureau chief, saying how the thousands of daily messages and calls they receive may cause delays for some.

While the state Dept. of Labor & Industry (DLI) couldn’t comment directly on Tiffany’s situation, Amanda said the department continues hiring new staff and updating its website to meet rising demands. 

“We just want to thank Montanans for their continued patience as we work to answer thousands of phone calls [and] emails and work towards thousands of claims in the state of Montana,” she said, suggesting people include more specific details about their cases in emails, since that may help staff better assist those who need it.

“It helps streamline what the problem is and how we can help them,” said Amanda.

With no eligibility for regular unemployment, money is tight for Tiffany and her family. Even so, she says she won’t stop trying, asking others in her shoes to do the same.

“Look for help. Don’t take no for an answer,” said the Vaughn resident.

For now, DLI encourages those who qualify to continue applying for unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, Tiffany will start working as soon as the hotel is ready.

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