LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – There are about 20,000 Arkansas families whose unemployment checks have been cut-off and they’ve been locked out of their accounts. The state says that it is apart of a major investigation into possible fraud.
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston talked about the increase of fraudulent claims during the pandemic during Governor Asa Hutchinson’s daily press conference. He said this is causing them to crack down on the accounts but that’s also leaving a hole in the pockets of those who are locked out.
One of those people is Jackie Atkinson, a photographer from Toad Suck.
“How am I supposed to pay my bills during the summer?” Atkinson said.
March through May is the busiest time for her business, but this year the view from behind the lens is missing the subject.
“Oh you’re talking like $17,000 is what I’m out for those three months,” Atkinson said.
She filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in May and received benefits since then. That is until last week.
“Friday I got locked out of my account,” Atkinson said.
Now when she logs in, she can only see her already submitted application.
”There’s usually a homepage you can go to. It doesn’t give me the option to do anything,” Atkinson said.
She is one of 20,000 people locked out of their accounts. Preston has seen a drastic increase in fraudulent unemployment claims and now they are locking any account flagged by their system.
“Sometimes there’s claims that might not have fraud but for whatever reason, their claim might have some discrepancy in it that has now been flagged for fraud and we’re having to slow the system down to make sure we can verify that,” Preston said.
Atkinson said she’s tried calling the helpline day after day.
“Hours, you can do this for hours, hours. I started at 6 o’clock in the morning,” Atkinson said.
Preston said they have added extra staff to help investigate these accounts.
“We’ve got about 14 that are in the fraud unit,” Preston said.
He didn’t have a specific timeline of when these claims would be processed.
“As quick as we can,” Preston said.
If your account is locked you can email ADWS.InternalAudit@Arkansas.gov or call (501) 682-1058.