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Idaho third best with disputed unemployment claims

| April 7, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Despite the rising number of Idaho workers seeking unemployment benefits over the past 18 months, Idaho ranks third nationally in handling disputed claims, the Idaho Department of Labor said Friday.

The department's Appeals Bureau processed more than 95 percent of the disputed jobless benefit claims it received in February within 30 days, and only 1.1 percent of the cases took between 45 and 90 days to resolve.

"The fact that it's resolved that quickly helps both the employer and the claimant by giving them both the certainty of what their next weeks and months hold," said Bob Fick, department spokesman.

He said the appeals bureau added several staff members to help process the increased workload which piled up after the national recession took hold.

With the beefed up staff, the bureau disposes of its cases in an average of 13 days, Fick said.

Only Utah and Nebraska were more efficient in processing unemployment insurance claim appeals, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.

The Appeals Bureau determines whether benefits should be allowed in cases where the initial claim has been denied and the worker appeals or where the initial claim has been allowed and the employer appeals.

Disputes sometimes deal with whether the employee's wages qualifies that person for benefits, or whether they were laid off or terminated for violating policy, Fick said.

The IDL has seen jobless claims rise from less than 13,000 in January 2008 to nearly 21,000 in January 2009, and it remained above 19,000 in January 2010.

The number of Idaho workers without jobs in February was 71,500, more than 50,000 more than two years earlier.

The onslaught left the Appeals Bureau with a backlog of more than 1,200 cases by May 2009, Fick said, most of which they have since resolved.

The federal processing target is 60 percent of cases within 30 days and 80 percent within 45. Idaho was one of only 10 states to exceed the 30-day target and 15 states beating the 45-day target.

Nationally, fewer than 30 percent of disputed cases were resolved within 30 days and only 48 percent within 45 days. The average processing time was 46 days.

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