Unemployment insurance frustrations aired

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Confusing application forms, unfair benefits and a frustrating appeals process – those were just a few of the complaints leveled against the state’s unemployment insurance system to members of a House division. 


In addition to taking public testimony, members of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division also aired some of their own concerns about UI benefits. No action was taken.


Paul Marfiz, a commercial painter, described a UI system that penalizes workers for taking work when they can get it. He said his benefits dropped from $566 a week to $377 a week because he took occasional painting jobs. Had he not worked, a federal unemployment extension would have provided him with more benefits.


Meanwhile, a group of flight attendants for Northwest Airlines (now Delta) on a special program that allows them to collect UI benefits while on voluntary furloughs described some of their own problems with the system.


Laurie Gandrud, a council representative for the Association of Flight Attendants, said some flight attendants in the program were forced to go through the full UI appeals process after simple mistakes like checking a wrong box caused their application to be denied.


“It might have been easier and less expensive if the applicants could have just corrected their mistakes,” she said.


Lee Nelson, director of legal affairs for the state’s UI program, answered the complaints in turn. He said the amount of UI benefits received by an applicant has been determined the same way since 1936, and is defined by federal law. As to the flight attendants’ complaints, he said the appeals process is necessary because it forces applicants to prove their case with sworn testimony and documented evidence.