The state Department of Labor and Training has agreed to take a series of interim steps to begin rectifying the situation faced by thousands of residents whose unemployment insurance benefit payments were frozen without notice or explanation as part of a fraud investigation. The agreement came at a court hearing late yesterday before U.S. District Judge William Smith on a request by ACLU of Rhode Island attorneys for a temporary restraining order against the state.
Among other interim steps, the DLT specifically agreed to take the following actions:
- For all recipients for whom DLT has an email address, the agency will provide them email notification by tomorrow if their unemployment insurance benefits payments have been put on hold due to the agency’s investigation of possible fraud, and will include information about a dedicated phone line they can call to speak with a person who can take information to resolve the issue.
- For those individuals who have not provided an email address (approximately 20% of those affected by the “hold”), DLT has committed to providing personal notice by mail, text or phone call, the details of which will be reported back to the Court next Monday.
- By Monday, DLT will double, from 10 to 20, the number of its staff dedicated to communicating with those individuals whose unemployment insurance benefits payments have been put on hold due to the fraud investigation.
The lawsuit was filed last week by ACLU of RI cooperating attorneys Ellen Saideman and Lynette Labinger. About a month ago, reports first emerged of the DLT freezing the payments of thousands of Rhode Island workers who had lost their employment. The lawsuit argues that the failure of the DLT to provide them any notice that their payments were being suspended violated their constitutional right to due process.
Judge Smith will be meeting again on Monday with attorneys in the case to review the state’s progress and to consider next steps. The ACLU attorneys will also be discussing with DLT other issues that have been causing individuals to find a hold on their benefits for reasons unrelated to the fraud investigation.
ACLU attorney Saideman said today: “We are grateful for all the people who have stepped forward to share their stories about their struggles in facing the unexpected suspension of their unemployment benefits. We are hopeful that we will be able to obtain a long-term solution that will assure that individuals who have legitimate claims to unemployment will get immediate notice of any freeze on their benefits and an effective way to resume benefits quickly.”
ACLU attorney Labinger added: “We are pleased to see the DLT has responded to our concerns about the enormous problem facing individuals who have been left far too long in the dark as to why their benefit payments stopped, and who have been unable to get through to the agency for assistance. We believe this is a good first step to address the problem, but we will continue to advocate for recipients to make sure that the communications are prompt, meaningful, and effective, and that this problem gets a long-lasting solution.”