The department — which has struggled to keep up with an avalanche of claims spurred by the coronavirus pandemic — could not specify how many workers were affected by the apparent glitch, even though the city on Friday sent out calls and emails to those who were affected. Several people who are awaiting payments told The Washington Post they do not know how they will pay bills and for basic needs in coming days.
“We understand how stressful this is for those awaiting payments,” the agency wrote in a statement Friday, adding that claimants can expect to receive benefits in two to three business days. “We are doing everything we can do address the issue now and ensure it does not happen again in the future.”
Earlier this month, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced an $11 million funding boost in the city’s unemployment agency. DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes said last week that agency staffers would undergo training to “improve quality of interactions” on Feb. 17 and Feb. 26, affecting operations on those days.
Tanisha Gerald, 25, said she was not able to reach the department at all this week about the missing payments, despite waiting hours on the phone. Dozens of others posted similar complaints on social media.
Gerald was on maternity leave when she lost her job at a restaurant in March. She filed her weekly unemployment certification on Sunday — like she always does — anticipating a slight delay because of Presidents’ Day. While DOES’s website shows her payment was deposited, it wasn’t in her bank account by Friday morning.
“I don’t what to do — I have no money for me or my child,” said Gerald, whose daughter turned 1 in January. “Bills are due on the 23rd. Rent’s coming up. It’s a lot.”
Joe Gomez, a 34-year-old media consultant from Adams Morgan whose business was decimated by the pandemic, said the loss of even one week of benefits could be devastating.
“Some people, myself included, if we don’t get our payment of $500 for one week, that’s a lot to miss out on,” he said. “We’re living paycheck to paycheck.”
Asked about the delays at a news conference Thursday, Bowser said she was “aware” of a problem affecting some unemployed workers but was unable to provide information on how many people were impacted or when it would be resolved.
“I can tell you from who’s in contact with us it seems like a large amount of people,” said D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), whose labor committee oversees DOES. She said the delays are affecting workers who receive all types of unemployment payments, ranging from traditional benefits to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Silverman said DOES officials would be sending emails, robocalls and texts Friday to those waiting on their benefits — and at least one unemployed worker contacted by The Post said she had received those messages. Silverman has also urged the agency to take care of overdraft fees and other expenses incurred by those whose payments were late.
“Claimants, especially when money is as tight as it is, shouldn’t have any further financial repercussions because of this error,” she said.
Knowing her missing payment likely won’t come until next week, Gerald said she is praying that her family can step in and provide support for her and her child.
“If I can’t find family members, then there’s nothing I can possibly do,” she said. “I need to get [baby] formula and everything, so I’m really on the line with my family members trying to scrape any change from them.”
Kyle Swenson contributed to this report.