PROVIDENCE — The RI Department of Labor & Training agreed to update people with unemployment freezes during a hearing before U.S. District Judge William Smith about an ACLU of Rhode Island request for a temporary restraining order against the state.
Last week, the ACLU of Rhode Island filed a class-action lawsuit challenging DLT’s freezing of weekly unemployment benefit payments to hundreds of Rhode Islanders without notice or explanation. The lawsuit argues that the failure of the DLT to provide UI benefit recipients any notice that their payments were being suspended violated their constitutional right to due process.
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.
“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,” said ACLU attorney Ellen Saideman.
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.
“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.” said ACLU attorney Lynette Labinger.