WBRZ https://www.wbrz.com/ WBRZ On Your Side On Your Side en-us Copyright 2021, WBRZ. All Rights Reserved. Feed content is not avaialble for commercial use. () () Tue, 2 Mar 2021 HH:03:ss GMT Synapse CMS 10 WBRZ https://www.wbrz.com/ 144 25 Surprising tax notice for man with missing unemployment benefits https://www.wbrz.com/news/surprising-tax-notice-for-man-with-missing-unemployment-benefits/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/surprising-tax-notice-for-man-with-missing-unemployment-benefits/ On Your Side Mon, 1 Mar 2021 4:45:58 PM Brittany Weiss Surprising tax notice for man with missing unemployment benefits

BATON ROUGE - For 18 weeks last year, Karl Hamilton was furloughed from his job and hoped to collect unemployment benefits. He assumed it would take a couple of weeks for the benefits to arrive, but months went by and nothing came.

Hamilton says he called the Louisiana Workforce Commission and emailed them multiple times. He says it was difficult to get through and calls weren't returned.

He went back to work and didn't think much of those benefits until a 1099 form turned up in his mail.

"It says that I was paid $15,124, which I was never paid," Hamilton said.

The 1099 form says Hamilton was paid the money in unemployment compensation. Hamilton says he didn't see a dime.

"I don't know what's going on, I don't understand if the money went somewhere else," he said.

Like last year, Hamilton says he hasn't had much success getting in touch with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

"Once in a while you get somebody, but they always tell you that a supervisor will call you back and no one calls you back," he said.

Hamilton reached out to 2 On Your Side with concern over his taxes. He said he was unable to file his taxes with the 1099 form that says he received $15,000 when he didn't.

Last week, 2 On Your Side reached out to LWC on Hamilton's behalf and soon after received a response. On Monday, Hamilton says he took a call from LWC that said he would be getting that money after all.

LWC says there currently isn't any known widespread issue with claimants receiving incorrect 1099-G forms, but if a claimant thinks their form is incorrect they can contact the UI call center.

If a claimant receives the 1099G form in error and did not file for UI benefits, they should:

• Go to the Fight Fraud banner located in the center of the laworks.com home page.
• The claimant will receive a confirmation that you can print out and attach to your tax return with the erroneous 1099-G.
• Remember, filing a false identity theft report is subject to criminal penalties.
• The IRS advises if someone receives a 1099-G in error and it has not been corrected before you file your federal income tax return, they should NOT report the income.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensations (FPUC) and Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) payments are taxable income.

Last month, 2 On Your Side reported that a man received an incorrect 1099 form and he is still working to get that corrected.

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Insurance companies could drop newer policy holders following historic 2020 hurricane season https://www.wbrz.com/news/insurance-companies-could-drop-newer-policy-holders-following-historic-2020-hurricane-season/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/insurance-companies-could-drop-newer-policy-holders-following-historic-2020-hurricane-season/ On Your Side Fri, 26 Feb 2021 5:17:13 PM Brittany Weiss Insurance companies could drop newer policy holders following historic 2020 hurricane season

BATON ROUGE - Following a record season last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is considering moving the start of the hurricane season to May 15.

Tropical storm Arthur started the 2020 season forming in mid-May. Before it was over, Louisiana was hit five times. Now, some homeowners are getting hit again by being dropped by their insurance companies.

Louisiana Department of Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon says it's a direct result of last year's hurricane season and some of the smaller companies are feeling the heat.

"Yes, it is happening but not to a great extent," he said.

The primary reason it's not happening more is because of Louisiana's consumer protection law that's been around since 1992. The law says if you've been with your homeowner's insurer for three or more consecutive years then you and that insurer are married for as long as they are doing business in the state. That means rates can't be changed, can't not renew a customer, can't increase your deductible or change your coverage unless they do it to all customers statewide.

Exceptions to the law say that people have to keep their property up to the condition it was when it was insured, and customers have a year from the time of the damage to put their properties back together. It does not apply to commercial properties.

Donelon says over the last 15 years it's been relatively quiet in terms of hurricanes, and in that time non-renewals were practically non-existent. But things are different since the multiple punches in 2020, and if you've been with your provider for less than three years you might be under the microscope.

"It's hurricane-related, no question," Donelon said.

For many, the one-year protection expires in one month. Donelon says it's a good idea to take a look at your policy now before the next hurricane season starts to see what your coverage is and is not.

"Are you protected by the three-year rule by virtue of the company that you have. Number two, know what your named storm or hurricane deductible is, because it's significant," he said.

Smaller regional insurance carriers have been stressed by 2020.

"They had enough vertical coverage, but not enough horizontal coverage," Donelon said. "They anticipated a big one and didn't anticipate multiple smaller ones hitting. They had to meet the deductible for each different storm under their reinsurance treaty. That's stressed several of those small regional carries. Some of them have been sold to new owners who see it as an opportunity to do business in our state."

Since Louisiana was ravaged by hurricanes in 2020, LDI has received more than 1,000 complaints filed against insurers for Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Zeta. Donelon says in 2020, insurers received about 300,000 claims for hurricane damage and have closed about 80 percent of them. Insurers have either paid or reserved $7.7 billion for those losses, of which $6.6 billion was for Laura.

If you're in a disagreement with your insurance company, call LDI at 800-259-5300 or fill out the complaint form online.

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Oversight board wants independent investigation into Entergy's new meters, surging power bills https://www.wbrz.com/news/oversight-board-wants-independent-investigation-into-entergy-s-new-meters-surging-power-bills/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/oversight-board-wants-independent-investigation-into-entergy-s-new-meters-surging-power-bills/ On Your Side Fri, 26 Feb 2021 12:11:55 PM Jeremy Krail Oversight board wants independent investigation into Entergy's new meters, surging power bills

BATON ROUGE - Louisiana's Public Service Commission is asking for a third-party investigation into Entergy's new smart meters after customers reported pricey spikes in their electricity bills. 

The commission's call for an independent investigator comes as Entergy is still conducting its own investigation into the meters. Last month, the oversight board asked for Entergy to look into the devices after some customers reported their bills doubled. 

"We have asked Entergy to give us a report, and then we're going to scrutinize that report," Commissioner Dr. Craig Greene said in January. "We just want to do the math and see if there's any problems. Or does it make sense?"

About a month ago, 2 On Your Side spoke to Entergy customers in multiple parishes who said their bills spiked after having the new smart meters installed. 

Entergy has said the advanced meters would offer improved customer service thanks to better insight into each household's energy usage, better detection of outages, and faster connection and disconnection of service.

The company previously said it couldn't offer explanations for changes in each customer's bill without looking at the different factors for each household. The company also suggested that some older meters may have become less accurate over time and were potentially reading under the actual usage. 

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Utility companies appear before oversight board; Entergy vows to improve https://www.wbrz.com/news/utility-companies-appear-before-oversight-board-entergy-vows-to-improve/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/utility-companies-appear-before-oversight-board-entergy-vows-to-improve/ On Your Side Wed, 24 Feb 2021 5:46:11 PM Brittany Weiss Utility companies appear before oversight board; Entergy vows to improve

BATON ROUGE - Utility companies were in the hot seat Wednesday morning at the Louisiana Public Service Commission meeting and had to explain what went wrong during the ice storm last week.

Entergy said it had challenges and admitted it did not meet customer expectations or its own.

During the ice storm and subsequent freezes, thousands were left in the dark and cold. Chairman Dr. Craig Greene read customer experiences to Entergy CEO Phillip May.

"These people are frustrated, they're scared, and they don't have anybody to turn to so they turn to us, and we are their voice," Greene said.

Power companies were faced with a difficult task during the outages, getting people back online quickly, all while navigating freezing weather conditions and a pandemic. Entergy says it had 131,000 customers in the dark last week. As power crews scrambled to get their heat turned back on, customers struggled to get updates or report an outage.

"We feel the frustration and the angst that was put upon customers because of the communications issues we had," May said. "We did not meet customers' expectations on how we communicated and the information we provided during the storm. We did not meet our own expectations on the information and the communications that we had during this storm."

May told the PSC that there were issues with Entergy's call centers. The same weather affecting Entergy customers affected Entergy's call centers. As a result, about 25 percent of the call center's scheduled workforce was unable to report to work for various connectability and transportation issues. Entergy also reports that one of its providers had fiber connection issues that resulted in multiple disconnected phone calls.

Customers told 2 On Your Side that they had called Entergy to report an outage only to be told by Entergy that they didn't have an outage. Entergy said Wednesday that its outage map was manually being updated once an hour, which means some people might have been viewing old information. Following Hurricane Zeta, the company implemented new systems to be ready for the upcoming season. When that system is completed, Entergy says the accuracy will improve.

Last Tuesday, Entergy was forced to implement rolling blackouts to prevent a collapse of the grid. Those blackouts left customers in the dark for hours. Entergy says it's still gathering details regarding the number of customers affected and will be able to provide that when available.

"When MISO calls for us to shed load across our system, we have 30 minutes to implement that call," May said. "We start with our non-critical load, however, when the load shed is larger than can be accomplished in 30 minutes - such as it was Tuesday morning in the extreme demand of the southwest portion of Louisiana - our only option is to de-energize entire substations in order to meet that 30-minute window."

As it relates to mandatory outages, Entergy says it makes every effort to provide as much notice as possible, but in this case there wasn't much time to warn people.

"I want to personally apologize for any inconvenience," May said. "I want you to know that we're working to improve our efficiency in executing this notice process and the means in which we execute that notice."

Entergy had a storm team of more than 4,000 who helped to restore power throughout the week. That team includes linemen and tree trimmers.

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Rolling blackouts to be discussed at Public Service Commission meeting Wednesday https://www.wbrz.com/news/rolling-blackouts-to-be-discussed-at-public-service-commission-meeting-wednesday/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/rolling-blackouts-to-be-discussed-at-public-service-commission-meeting-wednesday/ On Your Side Tue, 23 Feb 2021 5:05:26 PM Brittany Weiss Rolling blackouts to be discussed at Public Service Commission meeting Wednesday

BATON ROUGE - By Wednesday, we'll know more about what led up to the sudden blackouts brought on by last week's ice storm.

Entergy shut off power to thousands of customers in the last-minute move to save the electrical grid, but it didn't come without controversy. Wednesday, it'll be the topic of discussion among the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

A week ago, power crews were busy working to restore power to neighborhoods across Baton Rouge and south Louisiana. It's because so many homes came back online at once with the heat blasting that Entergy says it was forced to turn off the power on a cold night.

While the blackouts are done and most people now have their power back, the PSC is tasked with holding the utility company accountable.

"It's going to be a big meeting, because we really have to do better than we did this last time," Chairman Dr. Craig Greene said.

In New Orleans, Entergy is overseen by the city council. There Tuesday morning, the company said it cut more than three times more power than was required.

"I have questions about were the rolling blackouts appropriate from what the regional transmission authority recommended, or did it go over and above that. And if so, why?" Greene said.

Last week, Entergy Vice President John Hawkins says there wasn't much time for a warning.

"It happens fast, you have thirty minutes to get that load shed, so it's a very quick turnaround. It's not something we knew about it earlier in the day. You get that phone call, you have 30 minutes to execute," Hawkins said.

Customers were outraged they didn't get any time to prepare during a deep freeze. Some people lost power for hours while others called Entergy to report an outage only to be told by Entergy that they didn't have one.

"First of all, thank you for powering our lives, but also I think you could do this better. And so why were there so many people out for so long, and why couldn't they get in touch with someone to reinforce or help them, know how long they're going to be out," Greene said.

After the rolling blackouts, the power company promised it would do better. The PSC is asking people to submit their complaints online so they can be addressed. Tuesday, the PSC meeting will be held over Zoom or people can call in by phone.

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Utility regulators to investigate blackouts, prolonged power outages due to ice https://www.wbrz.com/news/utility-regulators-to-investigate-blackouts-prolonged-power-outages-due-to-ice/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/utility-regulators-to-investigate-blackouts-prolonged-power-outages-due-to-ice/ On Your Side Wed, 17 Feb 2021 1:50:19 PM Trey Schmaltz Utility regulators to investigate blackouts, prolonged power outages due to ice

BATON ROUGE – Entergy said Wednesday, it will make customer communication a priority after fallout from an abrupt, rolling blackout across its power grid Tuesday night.

The blackouts came with virtually no notice to customers between 7 and midnight Tuesday.  The mayor of Baton Rouge said she was not notified and the governor’s office said Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke with Entergy executives after the blackouts started.

A Public Service Commissioner said not enough advance notice was given to the PSC, either. 

In an interview with WBRZ and 2 On Your Side Wednesday, an Entergy honcho said the utility company realized customers could have been warned.

“We are working to make sure [warning customers] doesn't get overlooked and make sure that we are constantly communicating with our customers,” Entergy Vice President of Distribution Operations, John Hawkins, Jr., said.

Hawkins warned, additional rolling blackouts could occur again if demand exceeds supply.

“There is a possibility that it could happen again… you're just trying to balance the supply and the load.  Right now, everything is in balance,” he told WBRZ in an interview just after lunch Wednesday.

Blackouts come with a shortly-timed notification from the group that handles electricity sold to Entergy.

“You get that phone call, you have 30-minutes to execute,” he said.

Though, Hawkins reiterated that warnings are being addressed for customers: “That's one thing we are working to shore up."

The utility company did make adjustments: Entergy made phone calls and sent messages when it warned of possible outages occurring again Wednesday evening.  

Public Service Commission Investigation 

The PSC will investigate the blackouts and the lengthy outages related to the ice storm.

There was “no advance notice to the [Louisiana Public Service Commission] or its utilities” of the need for blackouts in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas, Commissioner Dr. Craig Greene said in a statement to WBRZ Wednesday. 

“...It should be noticed that rolling blackouts are not being required in southeast Louisiana,” he added.

Greene said there will be an investigation into the power-supplying body that Entergy said forced it to initiate blackouts but the scope of the inquiry would not stop there.  Green said “investigations are being opened into… Louisiana utilities’ response throughout this storm.” 

Initial reports could be done in a week, he said.

Louisiana HVACs pull lots of power 

Electric heaters pull more power than air conditioners, Entergy said, and in usually colder climates, buildings are warmed with heaters fueled by gas or oil and not electricity.  Electrical heaters, more common than fuel heaters in Louisiana, was part of the reason the grid was pushed beyond its limit. 


Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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LWC continues to tout success as claimants complain to 2 On Your Side https://www.wbrz.com/news/lwc-continues-to-tout-success-as-claimants-complain-to-2-on-your-side/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/lwc-continues-to-tout-success-as-claimants-complain-to-2-on-your-side/ On Your Side Fri, 12 Feb 2021 5:59:42 PM Brittany Weiss LWC continues to tout success as claimants complain to 2 On Your Side

BATON ROUGE - With the week ending, 2 On Your Side has heard from at least 100 claimants since Monday who say they're stuck in limbo and can't get answers about their unemployment benefits.

Debbie Comardelle lives in St. Charles Parish and says she never thought she would be in this position at this stage of her life.

"I'm 55 years old, and I never had to depend on anyone else for money," she said.

Yet here she is, unemployed and frustrated. She was laid off in April and received benefits up until December 2020. There's a benefit control audit on her claim that she can't seem to get cleared. It just says it's in progress.

"I can't get through to them. I call them every day, several times a day," Comardelle said. "I can't get through to them."

Brazella Briscoe of Geismar says it's been just as long for him as well. The last he heard from someone was in December, and then he was told he'd hear from someone within 21 days. He hasn't heard anything since.

"Nobody called me, texted me. I even tried to send emails, and they don't answer emails," he said. "I don't know what's wrong."

On Feb. 5, 2021, the Louisiana Workforce Commission said it had cleared a backlog of 30,000 claimants waiting on identity verification. Friday, 2 On Your Side asked Sec. Ava Dejoie about the 100 or so emails and calls received this week.

"You're saying 100 people contacted you, and I guess my response to that is, but we paid 200,000 people this week," Dejoie said. "We continue to work through every single claim, everyone's circumstance is different and we will continue to help each and every individual."

Often, claimants who contact WBRZ say they have a terrible time getting through to someone on the phone at LWC. Claimants report being transferred and immediately hung up on or stuck on hold for an hour or more. Dejoie says that LWC is still hiring people to answer phones, but there are only so many people qualified to help.

"Depending on what their issue is, there are only x-number of skilled seasoned staff that can work through certain issues," Dejoie said.

Right now, Dejoie says there could be a number of issues as to why people's claims remain "in progress." It could include conflicting employer submissions where the employee refused to return to work or quit, someone isn't available to work, or someone received wages and didn't report them to LWC.

Dejoie continues to tout the workforce's success. The U.S. Department of Labor holds the Louisiana system in high regard, ranking it consistently as number one and two for getting people their benefits in a timely manner. But some appear to be falling through the cracks and claimants like Comardelle want answers.

"What's the hold-up?" she said.

So far in 2021, LWC has paid out $550 million to Louisiana citizens.

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Overpayment notice sent in error, woman does not owe $15,000 after all https://www.wbrz.com/news/overpayment-notice-sent-in-error-woman-does-not-owe-15-000-after-all/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/overpayment-notice-sent-in-error-woman-does-not-owe-15-000-after-all/ On Your Side Tue, 9 Feb 2021 3:18:13 PM Brittany Weiss Overpayment notice sent in error, woman does not owe $15,000 after all

BATON ROUGE - There's a new concern for people on unemployment in Louisiana. A $15,000 repayment bill sent in error to someone who's been out of work because of the pandemic. It comes as hundreds still complain to 2 On Your Side about their troubles with the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

Emily Underhill says she got the paperwork on Monday and it said she owed about $15,000 back to LWC.

"I've heard a lot of stories nationwide about people everywhere who are getting these letters all of the sudden letting them know they owe thousands of dollars back in unemployment," said Underhill.

She says she received four overpayment notices, one of them says she owes $10,200 in Federal Unemployment Compensation Benefits because they were awarded in error. The paperwork says she has 15 days to pay it all back or appeal.

The documents are daunting to Underhill, who was laid off in March 2020 from the luxury cruise ship industry. She's been using those unemployment benefits to pay her bills.

"I'm on unemployment, where do you think I'm going to get $20,000 to pay you back?" she said.

In September 2020, 2 On Your Side reported that about 7,600 overpayment notices were generated in error and mailed out to people receiving benefits. Then, it apologized for the mistake.

Monday, Underhill says she spent more than an hour on the phone trying to get answers. Once she was transferred to the correct department she was hung up on.

Tuesday afternoon, Emily said she was connected to someone at LWC who informed her that the overpayment documents were sent in error. Underhill said the documents were sent due to some missing and/or incorrect information in the system which caused it to send out those notices. She's happy it's been sorted out and has since received adjusted notices that reduced her overpayment balances to zero.

LWC hasn't said how wide-spread this issue is.

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Unemployment issues continue; LWC says backlog is zero https://www.wbrz.com/news/unemployment-issues-continue-lwc-says-backlog-is-zero/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/unemployment-issues-continue-lwc-says-backlog-is-zero/ On Your Side Mon, 8 Feb 2021 5:04:32 PM Brittany Weiss Unemployment issues continue; LWC says backlog is zero

BATON ROUGE - Friday, the Louisiana Workforce Commission published a news release that said the 30,000 identity verification backlog reported on January 8 has been cleared. Last week, over the weekend and into Monday, 2 On Your Side continued to receive emails and calls from claimants waiting to hear back from LWC regarding their unemployment benefits.

Aaron Moses says he was laid off from his job in the oil and gas industry on January 5.

"Every day since then I check to see if I've received any communication from LWC, I have not," he said.

Moses' account says it's "in progress" or "not applicable" and when he tries to get through to someone on LWC, he's often unsuccessful. When he did get through he was promised a callback.

"She guaranteed me that I would get a call back within 24-48 hours and like I said, that was last Wednesday," said Moses.

Philip Bodungen says he doesn't have an issue getting someone on the phone at LWC, but no one seems to be able to identify the problem with his claim or know how to make the necessary corrections.

"It's been 31 weeks of outstanding payments that the unemployment office owes," said Bodungen.

He says he's added it all up and that LWC owes him $7,104 in unemployment benefits. It's money he could really use right now.

"Absolutely, I mean, we have two children here at the house," he said.
His claim also says it's "in progress."

Claimants also continue to write in to 2 On Your Side about their call wait time. One woman says she's been unemployed since November 2020 and has been filing for unemployment weekly. On Saturday, she sent a picture of her phone showing she'd been waiting to speak with someone for two hours.

Another claimant says his claim has been under a benefit payment audit control investigation and he's been waiting since December 2020.He says he's waited as long as five hours on hold only to be hung up on.

Last week, 2 On Your Side also received a call from a woman who received a 1099 in the mail that detailed $7,284 in unemployment benefits she had received. The woman tells 2 On Your Side she never collected unemployment and is now worried that this will affect her taxes.

LWC says that any individual or employer needing to report fraud can do so a laworks.net. Once that report is filed, the submitter will receive confirmation and there is nothing more that person will need to do. If LWC needs more information, they will contact that person or employer.
In November 2020, WBRZ spoke with Drew Enlund who filed a fraud report with LWC in July, only to learn weeks later that it was never investigated. LWC didn't elaborate on why the initial fraud claim was never looked into.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission says so far this year, Louisiana has paid more than $466 million to more than 206,000 people.

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EPA investigating complaint over questionable lead paint removal https://www.wbrz.com/news/epa-investigating-complaint-over-questionable-lead-paint-removal/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/epa-investigating-complaint-over-questionable-lead-paint-removal/ On Your Side Fri, 5 Feb 2021 5:34:40 PM Brittany Weiss EPA investigating complaint over questionable lead paint removal

BATON ROUGE - A man is upset and fears for his child's health after he says a crew did not properly remove lead paint from a house.

When Mat Keel's son was seven months old, he tested positive for lead poisoning. Keel says his neighbor, who was a landlord, removed all the paint on the house with a power washer.

"Any amount of lead is really dangerous, so we spent about a year of him having to undergo a little bit of treatment. And I had to take him to get his blood tested, as an infant, once a month," Keel said.

That's why he's concerned about how the paint was removed from the property directly behind his free art space on Government Street.

"None of the workers I observed, in the early days, wore masks," he said. "And I could see from my property looking over the fence there were paint chips everywhere."

Fearing it was lead paint, Keel says he got it tested.

"This is extreme, an extreme amount of contamination."

Photos and videos he took show workers with paint chips covering the ground and covered in dust. Given his prior experience with lead paint, Keel said he was concerned about that paint contaminating the air and the ground around the property. He thinks more precautions should have been taken.

For the last two months, Keel has been contacting various agencies about his concerns. He was turned down by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which says it does not regulate homeowner projects involving lead paint. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initially told Keel that they don't have jurisdiction either. But, just this week, it confirmed it is investigating Keel's complaint.

"I simply want to see this cleaned up, I want to see the EPA take this seriously," Keel said.

Mikeal Adams with Region 6 of the EPA says any building constructed before 1978 could contain lead-based paint and that if someone wants to remove it, they should hire a professional.

"That ensures they will clean up to a very specific level and not leave behind any of the toxic dust," Adams said.

The EPA says it's required to cover the ground or floors to ensure no dust is left behind.

"The lead that's in paint never goes away," Adams said. "If you create dust that does have lead paint in it and that dust hits the floor, the ground, wherever it's at it stays there."

The developer, Anthony Kimble of Kimble Properties, LLC, tells 2 On Your Side that even though he didn't receive a positive test for lead paint, crews were provided with a mask, the paint was wet before it was removed, the paint chips were bagged and properly disposed of according to code, and the house has been primed and painted with two fresh coats of paint.

Keel hopes that all the necessary EPA precautions are taken with future rehab in the area.

"We're in no way opposed to people fixing up houses. Our imperative is to ensure that someone [who] has a plan to develop 100 houses follows EPA rules," Keel said.

The EPA says the maximum fine involving lead paint is $40,000 per violation. Check back with 2 On Your Side for an update on the EPA's investigation.

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DEMCO to start installing new smart meters later this month https://www.wbrz.com/news/demco-to-start-installing-new-smart-meters-later-this-month/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/demco-to-start-installing-new-smart-meters-later-this-month/ On Your Side Thu, 4 Feb 2021 5:23:52 PM Brittany Weiss DEMCO to start installing new smart meters later this month

CENTRAL - More smart meters are on their way to homes in the greater Baton Rouge area.

Entergy customers have been complaining about higher bills and wonder if the meters have something to do with it. This week, DEMCO says it'll be installing them later this month to some 70,000 customers.

The switch will be quick and customers don't need to prepare. DEMCO says the smart meters will give customers more information about how they use energy and how they can save money.

David Latona with DEMCO says many new builds and businesses already have the new smart meters - 35% of DEMCO customers are using them now. The rest of the smart meters will be installed at homes and businesses starting this month.

DEMCO says the new, smart meter technology is convenient, accurate, and safe.

"We will be able to get the reading from a meter at our headquarters office," said Latona. "And this only improves our response time for outage restoration."

That's because DEMCO will automatically be notified when the power goes out.

During the switch, customers will notice a brief power interruption. DEMCO says it'll let customers know ahead of time by mailing them a notice.

DEMCO says smart meters will not directly cause your bill go to up but says if your old meter was not recording energy usage accurately, an increased bill is possible.

Entergy customers who have contacted 2 On Your Side say their bills skyrocketed after the switch. Both companies reinforce the notion that the new meters show the most accurate use. They also detect tampering or energy theft.

DEMCO will start replacing these 70,000 meters in the next couple of weeks. If you have questions about the meter or your bill, call DEMCO. The Public Service Commission plans to take up Entergy's situation later this month.

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Woman's valuables destroyed in storage unit by rodents; insurance, storage company 'not responsible' for over $70,000 in losses https://www.wbrz.com/news/woman-s-valuables-destroyed-in-storage-unit-by-rodents-insurance-storage-company-not-responsible-for-over-70-000-in-losses/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/woman-s-valuables-destroyed-in-storage-unit-by-rodents-insurance-storage-company-not-responsible-for-over-70-000-in-losses/ On Your Side Mon, 1 Feb 2021 7:08:53 PM Brittany Weiss Woman's valuables destroyed in storage unit by rodents; insurance, storage company 'not responsible' for over $70,000 in losses

BATON ROUGE - A woman's possessions were destroyed by rats and she contacted 2 On Your Side after getting nowhere on her own.

Michelle Dow started storing the contents of her house at the Life Storage on Old Hammond Highway in Baton Rouge in 2002. She sold her home after a divorce and needed a place to put the items until she found a new house. Dow says she ended up storing the items for a lot longer than she had planned and it wasn't until a couple of years ago did she notice rat droppings here and there throughout the unit. Dow says she let the management at Life Storage know what she found.

"She said they were aware and they were treating it," said Dow.

A few weeks ago, Dow visited the unit and start organizing her belongings for a move.

"Everything in there was saturated in rat urine or rat feces," she said.

Dow spent hours sifting through her items, most of which she had to throw out. Finding a rat carcass was the last straw and she says she pretty much gave up after that.

Dow is in a difficult position now, since her homeowner's policy doesn't cover damage by vermin and Life Storage says it's not responsible either.

"They said they're sorry but they're not responsible for the contents, they're responsible for the structure of the building," said Dow.

Last month, 2 On Your Side reached out to Life Storage after Dow said they weren't helping her. After performing a thorough investigation of the situation, Life Storage offered Dow $3,000. Life Storage says, "We feel the settlement offered is consistent with the loss associated with her claim of damaged property."

Life Storage asked Dow to provide a list of all her belongings that were lost in the mess. Dow values her items lost at about $30,000.

Since 2002, Dow says she's spent $71,000 storing her items at Life Storage.

"I'm just exhausted from this whole process," she said.

While she was moving the items out of the unit, Dow found two holes at the rear of the locker where outside light shined through. She says her boyfriend went around to take a look and found that you could stick items through them.

After learning that the rats might have had a way in and out of her unit, she doesn't think that she has been treated fairly. Dow says if Life Storage had been taking care of the unit like they said they were, she wouldn't be in this position.

Life Storage says customers have the option of purchasing insurance through them. That insurance is specifically designed for storage and is offered through a third party insurer to cover damage of stored contents.

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State agency wants Entergy to investigate new meters as customers report surging bills https://www.wbrz.com/news/state-agency-wants-entergy-to-investigate-new-meters-as-customers-report-surging-bills/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/state-agency-wants-entergy-to-investigate-new-meters-as-customers-report-surging-bills/ On Your Side Fri, 29 Jan 2021 5:09:24 PM Brittany Weiss State agency wants Entergy to investigate new meters as customers report surging bills

BATON ROUGE - After reports of Entergy bills doubling following a meter replacement, the Public Service Commission says it's asking Entergy to take a closer look to see if anything abnormal is happening and in need of correcting.

"Was it a shift from the analog meters to the digital and now they're reading more accurately? Is it that it's been a colder winter?" Commissioner Dr. Craig Greene said.

Green said the spike in bills is likely linked to usage, but the PSC is making sure there's no glitch in the transition from old meters to new ones. The PSC has asked Entergy to dive deeper into what's happening.

"We have asked Entergy to give us a report, and then we're going to scrutinize that report," Greene said. "We just want to do the math and see if there's any problems. Or does it make sense?"

This week, 2 On Your Side heard from customers in multiple parishes about their billing concerns. Willie Mae Hall in Walker says her bill nearly doubled.

"I was like, is this like real?" she said.

Hall has lived in her home for 15 years and says her bill of $381 is the highest it's ever been. She tells 2 On Your Side that she doesn't recall doing anything out of the ordinary with her electricity recently and doesn't use the heat very often.

"We don't really run the heat that much," she said. "Normally my bill for the wintertime is like right at $200. For it to go up to $380, that's crazy!"

An Entergy customer in Denham Springs had a similar experience. DeAnna Charett says her Entergy meter was swapped out for a new one in the last few weeks. The latest electric bill she received was $344, and she says it's the highest it's ever been.

"I noticed talking to people in the subdivision via Facebook groups and other things that everything has jumped for this month," Charett said.

Entergy says it can't determine what is driving a customer's bill high without working with them individually there are a number of factors. They include weather, the condition of the structure being cooled or heated, or how warm or cold a customer keeps their house. The new advanced meters are tested prior to, during, and after installation to ensure functionality and accuracy.

Entergy says in some cases, legacy meters that have been running over a long period of time can become less steadfast. If a customer had an older, analog meter prior to receiving their new advanced meter, there is the possibility that their older meter was reading under the actual usage.

Advanced meters will provide a number of future benefits, including new online tools to help customers better manage their energy usage and potentially save money on their bills, improved customer service due to the deeper level of insight into customers’ energy usage, quicker and more accurate detection of outages, and faster connection and disconnection of service.

If a customer is concerned about their bill or has questions regarding their new advanced meter, they are encouraged to call 1-800-ENTERGY.

The PSC says it plans to review the information from Entergy prior to its next meeting.


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More Entergy customers complain about high bills following meter switch https://www.wbrz.com/news/more-entergy-customers-complain-about-high-bills-following-meter-switch/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/more-entergy-customers-complain-about-high-bills-following-meter-switch/ On Your Side Thu, 28 Jan 2021 5:51:17 PM Brittany Weiss More Entergy customers complain about high bills following meter switch

WALKER - Ever since Willie Mae Hall was laid off from her job in July, her routine at home has been the same. 

"It's nothing different than we have done in the last couple of months," Hall said.

Thursday morning, Hall met 2 On Your Side's Brittany Weiss in Baton Rouge for an interview. It was about 50 degrees outside and Hall was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Hall says she often feels warm and doesn't use her heat much.

"We're never that cold to turn it on," she said.

Yet, in 15 years of living in her Walker home, Hall says the $381 Entergy bill she received in January is the highest bill she has ever received. She can't believe it.

"I was like, is this, like, real?" she said.

Last month, Hall says her Entergy meter was switched out for a smart meter. Entergy has been gradually switching the meters to a new advanced one since 2018.

"It allows you to see your usage during the day and during the month instead of just once a month when you get your bill," Entergy Customer Service Vice President Melonie Stewart said.

In December, there were six days when the temperature went below freezing. The coldest day so far this season was December 26, 202 at 29 degrees. Entergy says that has something to do with bills going up.

"Customers are seeing higher usage on their January bills due to the really cold temperatures in December," Stewart said.

Hall isn't convinced the weather plays that big a role since she barely touches her thermostat.

"We don't really run the heat that much," she said. "Normally my bill for the wintertime is like right at $200. For it to go up to $380, that's crazy!"

Hall says she'll have to dip into her savings to pay her bill since she's relying on unemployment benefits until she can go back to work. She has contacted Entergy to take another look at her meter.

This week, 2 On Your Side has heard from Entergy customers in Baton Rouge, Ascension, and Livingston Parishes regarding high January bills following a meter switch.

Entergy encourages customers to call 1-800-Entergy if they have an issue with their bill. 

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Entergy customers concerned about high January bills after meter switch https://www.wbrz.com/news/entergy-customers-concerned-about-high-january-bills-after-meter-switch/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/entergy-customers-concerned-about-high-january-bills-after-meter-switch/ On Your Side Wed, 27 Jan 2021 5:29:00 PM Brittany Weiss Entergy customers concerned about high January bills after meter switch

DENHAM SPRINGS - An Entergy customer in Denham Springs says her electric bill was the highest it's ever been this month and she wants to know why.

When DeAnna Charlett opened her January bill she saw that she owed $344. The large number came as quite a shock, especially since her December bill was for $158. Charlett went back to look through her 2020 bills and found that the highest it ever got was about $200 in September. She started asking her neighbors in Fairlane Farms if they had seen a sharp increase too.

"I noticed talking to people in the subdivision via Facebook groups and other things like that that everything has jumped for this month," she said.

Charlett says there are about 200 homes in her subdivision and the majority of people living there have reported that their bill wattage doubled in the last month.

"Another person's jumped from $80 to $252, another one from $116 to $187, and another one from about $75 to $365," said Charlett.

Earlier in January, Charlett says Entergy went around replacing the meters. They're called smart meters or advanced meters, and Entergy started installing them in Louisiana in 2018. The meters allow users to monitor their electric usage by the day and they can be read remotely.

Over the last week, 2 On Your Side has heard from a few people who have concerns about their latest Entergy bills. Entergy's Vice President of Customer Service Melonie Stewart says people being home more and the cold weather might attribute to the higher cost.

"The meters that we have are very accurate, our readings are very accurate and what we're really seeing more of is high usage," said Stewart.

But Charlett is learning that the system isn't perfect. She contacted Entergy and her case was investigated. Entergy found that the issue was with her old meter, not the new one.

"They said that the previous meter was faulty or something like that," said Charlett.

Entergy found that during the meter switch part of Charlett's bill had been estimated and it was estimated too high. Human error attributed to her high bill and it has since been adjusted to $237.

Charlett says it's still too high, but better than it was. She says she will be taking a closer look at her bills from now on.

Entergy could not comment on whether all customers in Fairlane Farms are experiencing the same issue but encourages customers with concerns to give them a call at 1-800-ENTERGY.

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Gonzales subdivision approved, residents question whether it should have been https://www.wbrz.com/news/gonzales-subdivision-approved-residents-question-whether-it-should-have-been/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/gonzales-subdivision-approved-residents-question-whether-it-should-have-been/ On Your Side Tue, 26 Jan 2021 6:36:14 PM Brittany Weiss Gonzales subdivision approved, residents question whether it should have been

GONZALES - Farmland is turning into real estate, and there's a storm brewing in Ascension Parish. People who live in the area are questioning how the development approval process was handled, and they contacted 2 On Your Side about their concerns.

Tricia Peno has lived along O'Neal Road in Ascension Parish for decades.

"This is my family's land, actually, it's been in my family for a long time," Peno said.

Dantin Bruce Development has plans to build Windermere Crossing Subdivision behind Peno's home. The neighborhood consisting of about 35 acres would be made up of 103 homes with a minimum size of 7,280 square feet. About 75 percent of the property is within an X flood zone, and there are about seven acres of wetlands within the site. The development would drain to Black Bayou, which is just to the north of the property.

When the development application was submitted, it included a right turn-in, left turn-in, and right-turn out of Roddy Road. Following about 50 minutes of back-and-forth at the Jan. 13 Planning Commission meeting, Windermere Crossing was approved with an additional right turn-in and right turn out onto Cannon Road.

It was originally not suggested to connect to Cannon Road because of its restricted width of fewer than 18 feet. Part of the approval included a building restriction that would widen Cannon Road to at least 18 feet from Roddy Road to Oneal Road. Even then, Peno says Cannon Road is a narrow stretch that leads to other narrow roads. And with the additional neighborhood traffic, she is concerned about what will happen.

"Putting that many houses in an already stressed area is just not right," she said.

Neighbor Eric Kehn agrees that new development is good, but the infrastructure can't take it.

"Nothing was done since this was country and we're trying to make it city without making the infrastructure city," he said.

Kehn and Peno both take issue with how the development was discussed and approved at the Planning Commission meeting. Concerns over Cannon Road being too narrow and the lack of a traffic study for the additional subdivision entrance and widening was mentioned.

"I think the problem that we have Mr. Murphy is that we want to widen Cannon Road, but we don't have a traffic impact study to know that's going to need that," Chairman Matthew Pryor said.

There's concern that the Planning Commission has no authority to make the decisions that it did.

"It didn't go through our planning department, it was just flat-out illegal," resident Jeff Pettit said.

Parish President Clint Cointment posted on Facebook following the meeting where three subdivision plats were approved. In his post he said, "unfortunately, the Parish's Development Code lacks appropriate ordinances that would have enabled the commission to reject one or all of those subdivisions."

Cointment also wrote that he pledges that he will do everything he can to change the Development Code and tighten restrictions on development. His full Facebook post can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/AscensionParishGovernment/posts/258551415784875

Calls to Dantin Bruce Development and Chairman Matthew Pryor were not returned.

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'Worst perfect storm' affecting thousands of unemployment claims https://www.wbrz.com/news/worst-perfect-storm-affecting-thousands-of-unemployment-claims/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/worst-perfect-storm-affecting-thousands-of-unemployment-claims/ On Your Side Mon, 25 Jan 2021 5:51:40 PM Brittany Weiss 'Worst perfect storm' affecting thousands of unemployment claims

BATON ROUGE - Monday, 2 On Your Side heard from the Secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission over long waits and lack of responses to unemployment claims. Sec. Ava Dejoie speaking today amid ongoing complaints about how long it's taking people to get help since they've been out of work due to COVID-19.

Over the last few months, 2 On Your Side has heard from hundreds of people who say they're waiting on an unemployment check or can't reach anyone at the unemployment office. Some people say that they haven't received benefits for months and their utilities are being shut off. LWC said Monday that their system is overloaded since it's paid out seven times the number of people in 2020 compared to 2019.

"We will never have enough representatives to answer the volume of phone calls," Dejoie said. "There are x-number of representatives that are answering the phones and x-number of lines and we only have so much capacity in those situations."

Dejoie says her team has worked around the clock to help people while combating fraud at the same time.

"This, with ill intent, is hurting those most in need," she said.

Through their investigations, LWC says most recently they came across a photoshopped image of someone holding a license up to their face. The license was fake and it was placed in such a way that it misshaped the person's hand in the image. A human has to process those photos and approve each one connected to a claim for a person to receive their benefits. The state is processing thousands of new claims each week.

"We're working through them as quickly as we can and we'll continue to do so," Dejoie said.

In addition to combating fraud, Dejoie says different types of unemployment benefits last for specific lengths and it all plays a part in what's happening behind the scenes.

"All of those things are the worst perfect storm you can imagine," she said.

While benefits might be coming in slow to a lot of people, the U.S. Department of Labor recognizes the Louisiana Workforce Commission as the state with the best first-time payment rate in the nation. The data shows that Louisiana was the highest performing state for the federal fiscal year (Oct. 2019 - Sept. 2020). The state had the second-best performance for the calendar year 2020.

"I think it's a testament to the hard work that our team has done, but when there is one person that goes unpaid we still have work to do," Dejoie said.

One of those people is Nana Williams in Shreveport. She was receiving unemployment up until September and since then hasn't heard anything from LWC. She contacted 2 On Your Side on Friday, and her email was forwarded to LWC. Williams says the next day she heard from someone at LWC who helped her through her claim process.

"I haven't been able to get through to them for like four months - literally since I talked to anybody," Williams said.

To get a jump-start, Williams says she starts dialing the workforce number at 7:59 a.m. so she can be in line to speak with someone. Often, her call gets disconnected and her bills are piling up.

"Bills don't stop, that stuff doesn't stop," she said.

With the help of 2 On Your Side, Williams hopes that her claim is cleared soon.

LWC is currently paying benefits to about 180,000 people and says it will continue to work through identity issues while they fight fraud.

In a news release Monday afternoon, LWC announced that one of the federally funded benefits programs that started at the height of the pandemic is ending. About 5,200 people have unemployment claims in the Extended Benefits (EB) Program. The U.S. Department of Labor notified LWC that Louisiana's unemployment rate no longer meets the criteria to continue the EB program past Jan. 23.

Claimants who are currently filing for benefits through EB will be notified and transitioned to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

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Governor responds as thousands continue waiting for unemployment benefits https://www.wbrz.com/news/governor-responds-as-thousands-continue-waiting-for-unemployment-benefits/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/governor-responds-as-thousands-continue-waiting-for-unemployment-benefits/ On Your Side Fri, 22 Jan 2021 5:45:38 PM Brittany Weiss Governor responds as thousands continue waiting for unemployment benefits

BATON ROUGE - As another week comes to a close, the Louisiana Workforce Commission still has a backlog of claimants waiting for their benefits.

Friday, Governor John Bel Edwards said that the Workforce Commission is doing the best it can to catch up. WBRZ asked him what he'd like to say to the thousands of people who aren't receiving benefits.

"First of all, you can tell them we're working as hard as we can," Edwards said.

On Jan. 8, 2021, LWC Sec. Ava Dejoie said that there was a backlog of 30,000 claimants. To help clear those cases, an additional 80 employees have been pulled in to help with the remaining backlog and verify ID. As of Friday, Jan. 22, about 16,000 of those 30,000 claims were cleared.

"We're just going to continue to work as fast as we can. And look, if you're there and you need that payment in order to buy food, to pay rent, to live, there's nothing I can say today that is going to satisfy them. They need that check," Gov. Edwards said. "I get it, and that's what I've instructed Ava to do with her team."

Gov. Edwards said Friday that LWC has an obligation to stop fraudulent claims. Since new identification practices have been implemented, LWC has stopped 60,000 claims that had fraudulent appearances. The governor says they're trying to get it right.

"We have an awful lot of people who are waiting longer than they should to get these payments, and so we're going to continue to improve," he said.

Dexter Ozenne of Lafayette is one of the thousands left waiting to hear back about his claim. He was working offshore when he was laid off last year and applied for unemployment benefits. He received his last payment in December.

"I've got kids, rent, bills, I got everything and I have no income," Ozenne said.

This week, 2 On Your Side heard from more than 300 people who have been waiting to hear back from LWC. Each call and email was sent to LWC for further review.

Friday, 2 On Your Side requested an interview with Sec. Dejoie and was told that she didn't have an opening due to prior commitments and obligations.

In the third week of 2021, LWC says it has paid $84.9 million in unemployment benefits. So far this year, it's paid about $251 million across all unemployment insurance programs.

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No update from workforce commission Thursday, call for help continues https://www.wbrz.com/news/no-update-from-workforce-commission-thursday-call-for-help-continues/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/no-update-from-workforce-commission-thursday-call-for-help-continues/ On Your Side Thu, 21 Jan 2021 5:24:54 PM Brittany Weiss No update from workforce commission Thursday, call for help continues

BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana Workforce Commission provided no new updates Thursday as thousands of unemployed people plead for help.

At the Baton Rouge office, a guard stands outside the gate monitoring traffic in and out. Sometimes she speaks with visitors like Natasha Tate.

"This is ridiculous. I'm all stressed out," said Tate.

Like others, Tate has been caught up in an unemployment benefit mess. She's been waiting to hear back from someone at the LWC.

"Why is it so hard to get through on the phone to talk to someone to get your business situated?" she said.

The guard took down Tate's name and number and told her she'd get a call in two to three business days. She told 2 On Your Side she wasn't holding her breath.

Tate was working as a nurse assistant until she lost her job last year. For the last few months, she's been struggling to pay her rent and take care of her family.

"I have a family that needs help," she said.

Amy Soileau is a teacher in Lafayette and can relate to what Tate is going through. She was preparing to start a new teaching job in March when the pandemic hit and the job suddenly became unavailable. She's been applying to various positions, including the service industry, but she hasn't landed a job. Then last month her unemployment benefits stopped. Soileau says she's all but given up on her benefits since she can't get through to anyone on the phone.

Soileau walked 2 On Your Side through the prompts for the unemployment helpline and three minutes in was told the call volume was high and to call back. The line disconnected.

She's been taking out her frustrations on Reddit, chatting with people from around the country. All of them are having issues with unemployment benefits.

"Louisiana is not alone in this fight at all. I mean, this is across the nation just countless people from countless states in desperation just trying to find answers," Soileau said.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission says it hired more people to cover the phones. But about two weeks ago it reported there were 30,000 claimants with an issue that required staff review. Wednesday, the LWC told 2 On Your Side that it's cleared about 11,000 claims, but there are still about 20,000 claimants waiting to hear from someone because their claim requires staff review.

"Something needs to be done, it's ridiculous," Tate said.

Many, like Tate, are relying on those dollars to pay their bills.

Thursday, LWC said it will publish updated data on Friday. The release will include a comprehensive update, including information about backlogged claims. From Jan. 1 to Jan. 15, 2021, LWC says it has distributed more than $166 million in unemployment aid across all Unemployment Insurance programs.

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Call backlog slowly improving for Workforce Commission, thousands still waiting https://www.wbrz.com/news/call-backlog-slowly-improving-for-workforce-commission-thousands-still-waiting/ https://www.wbrz.com/news/call-backlog-slowly-improving-for-workforce-commission-thousands-still-waiting/ On Your Side Wed, 20 Jan 2021 5:35:42 PM Brittany Weiss Call backlog slowly improving for Workforce Commission, thousands still waiting

BATON ROUGE - The state is finally offering some answers after thousands of people were cut off from their unemployment benefits pending a fraud investigation.

There are still thousands of claimants waiting to hear back from someone at the Louisiana Workforce Commission, but 2 On Your Side learned Wednesday afternoon that the LWC is slowly chipping away at those 30,000 claimants who need staff review.

Lorraine Hatton used to be a cook at Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter. It's a job she held for more than a decade until she was laid off in March.

"This is worse than Katrina," she said.

Hatton says she had to move out of her apartment and has been couch-surfing. It's been 11 weeks since she last received an unemployment payment.

"For Katrina, you had different sources," she said. "For this pandemic, you have one source and it's unemployment."

The stories continue in Baton Rouge. Jeremy Yeager used to work as a commercial electrician up until he lost his job due to the pandemic. He's been on and off unemployment this past year but recently he hasn't been receiving benefits.

"It shouldn't be this difficult to process," Yeager said. "Right now I'm behind on my rent and my landlord is getting tired of hearing the excuse that I'm dealing with the Louisiana Workforce Commission."

Others who spoke with 2 On Your Side last week report another week of silence.

"Nothing has changed," Velissa Frank said.

Frank says she's part of groups online where hundreds of people chat about their unemployment issues.

"The few people that did get things done are the people that have the new cases," Frank said. "The people like myself and others who have been waiting for months can't get anything done."

Emails sent to 2 On Your Side are forwarded to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. On Jan. 8, 2021, LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie said that 30,000 claimants fell into a basket of people waiting to hear back about various issues with their claim. Wednesday, the LWC provided an update to that number and said, out of the old claimants, staff have cleared nearly 11,000 claims since Jan. 8. New staff hired to work nights and weekends have been working to clear those waiting claimants.

That leaves about 20,000 people with an old claim that requires staff review and a phone call. Hatton is one of those 20,000 people.

"It shouldn't take this long if you're processing something," she said.

In addition, the LWC says its automated system has cleared another 20,000 claims, which are new and continuing.

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