KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Labor is working to get through its appeals backlog, but some Missourians say it isn't happening quick enough.
Some Missourians told 41 Action News they've been waiting anywhere from three to nine months to get determinations after filing appeals.
St. Louis resident Erica DeLoach said she blames the department for her empty bank accounts.
"My savings is completely drained, it's completely empty, my checking account is empty as well," DeLoach said.
DeLoach said she filed an appeal in February and did not get a hearing until late April, which she said was canceled due to a phone issue at the department.
It wasn't until June 10 that she was able to get a new hearing. In the meantime, she hasn't been able to receive unemployment payments.
"How are we supposed to get to the job without a phone for them to call and let us know we have a job or have money for gas to get to the job," DeLoach said.
It's a similar story for St. Louis resident Lamont Smith.
"I’ve basically used up all my savings, I’m behind on bills, I’m just barely making it right now," Smith said.
Smith filed an appeal in Sept. 2020 and didn't have a hearing until March 2021. He's still waiting on a determination.
"I’ve basically only heard the same things from the representative, oh it can take two weeks, it can take 30 days, we are so far behind, keep checking your correspondence," Smith said.
In an email, spokesperson Maura Browning said the department faced a historic number of unemployment claims last year due to the pandemic.
"In two weeks, the number of initial claims increased from 3,976 to 104,230. Due to this massive increase, we are now seeing an increase in the number of appeals as claims go through the process. The Department went to great lengths to expand its workforce, including hiring temporary staff."
Smith and DeLoach, as well as others, told 41 Action News department representatives told them the lag was due to temporary referees being brought in to perform appeals whose work later had to be re-done by other referees.
Browning sent this response when asked about that:
"Any suggestion that claims handled by temporary staff had to be re-entered is not true."
41 Action News has filed an open records request to learn more about the appeal backlog and exactly how the department is working to handle it. We're currently waiting on a response from the department.