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Idahoans needing unemployment benefits struggle to find help as the state tries to keep up

Many Idaho residents are struggling to find help, and get through the Idaho Department of Labor phone line, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

BOISE, Idaho — Many businesses across Idaho were forced to close their doors to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, the measures taken to stop COVID-19 are leaving many Idahoans without a job and needing to file for unemployment benefits. 

With so many people calling the Idaho Department of Labor with questions about the process, many people can't even reach a real person over the phone to get help.

"We are stuck. Stuck knowing that there are benefits but not able to get them in any of the avenues that are available to us," Justin Kurtz of Caldwell said.

Kurtz told KTVB over a FaceTime interview that he went from working three jobs to being unemployed, seemingly overnight.

"Well, essentially the first thing that happened is all the concerts and BSU events were canceled," Kurtz said. "My event services job went to zero hours overnight. My restaurant job, I was working about 40 hours with them and as soon as our hours changed over from the coronavirus, I am down to maybe nine hours a week right now. And then as far as real estate goes, with the change of market right now, we're just so concerned with safety and doing things right and with people being leery to even get into home loans right now with what the stock market is doing that is near non-existent as well."

Like thousands of other Idahoans, Kurtz filed for unemployment. But he said his claim wasn't approved and a vague response from the Department of Labor said there was an "issue."

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"So, when I searched that to see what it could mean, it said we were either fired from our job voluntarily, as in we did something to cause it, or we earn too much money for benefits, which clearly isn't the case," Kurtz said.

Kurtz explained he tried to call the Department of Labor to speak with someone about the issue but like many others, he can't get through.

KTVB was able to get a hold of an unemployment technical service specialist at the Department of Labor who says be patient and before anyone is ever denied benefits, someone from the department will follow up with you.

MORE: 'Claim volume has exploded': Idaho unemployment claims skyrocket amid coronavirus outbreak

"If there is an issue on someone's claim an adjudicator will contact them by phone or by email if that is there preferred contact to get additional information from them before sending a determination of benefits," said Leah Reeder with the Idaho Department of Labor. "Even though they have a pending issue that's preventing payment, once they are allowed, if they are allowed benefits, they will be back-payed for those weeks they were waiting."

In the last several weeks, over 13,000 Idahoans have filed for unemployment benefits, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.

Gretchen Parsons is an anchor, reporter and producer at KTVB since 2016. You can follow her on Instagram @gretchenparsonsKTVB or  @gretchenKTVB on Twitter.

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