INDIANAPOLIS - The massive nationwide retail data breach has delayed unemployment benefits for people who are out of work throughout Indiana.
"I never thought it could affect me like this at all,” said Josh Reno of New Castle. He and other unemployed workers told the Call 6 Investigators they have been unable to pay their household bills because unemployment benefits have been delayed.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development pays people who are eligible for unemployment by issuing debit cards , and the department admitted to the Call 6 Investigators that cards have been delayed while the bank that issues those cards is regrouping from the breach of data at Target and other retailers nationwide.
"We’ve only gotten a handful of calls this week," said Joe Frank, a spokesman for Workforce Development.
He attributed the recent delays to a "backlog" with the bank that issues the debit cards for state benefits. He said it’s a problem for credit and debit card issuers nationwide, which is also affecting other state agencies that use cards to dole out public assistance.
Vicenta Muniz of Indianapolis, who lost her job as a caseworker for survivors of AIDS and domestic violence, said she’s been struggling to pay her bills while the state and its vendor provide varying answers about the status of her card.
She and other recipients told the Call 6 Investigators that they were repeatedly told the cards had been mailed days or weeks ago, only to be told this week that the cards had never been mailed at all due to the nationwide data breach.
"I was at my wit’s end," Muniz said. "I had some savings, but that’s pretty much gone at this point, and I’m just sitting and waiting and calling some of my creditors and letting them know that I have not received my payment."
In New Castle, Reno was laid off for the winter from his job as an arborist and he said he’s been checking his account balance online to find payments being made that he has no way to access without the promised debit card.
"It’s like looking at a bank account that’s been frozen, until they decide that they’re going to let you have it," Reno said.
"You don’t know if you got the gas money just to make it across town and back," he said, adding that the delay may force him to stop coaching a youth bowling group until he heads back to work in March.
"I might be back to work by the time they actually get me a paycheck," he said, referring to a date that’s already been set for him to return to his landscaping job.
Reno and other unemployment recipients said they’ve been told the cards are in the mail for as long as one month. He started receiving weekly payments that he was unable to access last month, while Muniz became eligible for benefits in December and started receiving payments earlier this month.
"The worst part is that no one seems to care. You call one agency and they send you to another. They’re just passing the buck," Muniz said.
Frank, the Workforce Development spokesman, declined to say how many people have been affected by the delayed cards and he declined to say over what time period the benefits have been delayed.
He originally agreed to answer questions on camera and provide the number of people affected by the delay, but then backed out, saying "It’s not really an issue at all for us."
Frank said the state’s credit card vendor assured Department of Workforce Development leaders that the backlog is no longer a problem. He said that vendor is now waiving fees to expedite mailing of the cards, a service that usually costs at least $15.
"We’re up to date," Frank said.
He urged anyone who’s having problems receiving their benefits to call the department for help.
Both Reno and Muniz said that hasn’t worked for them.
"After a while, it was just like they were trying to tell me anything they could tell me just to get me to hang up the phone," Reno said.
Muniz said she asked for another way to receive her benefits, such as a trip to the bank, but was told debit cards are the only way to receive payment.
"It’s been hectic and it’s stressful, I mean everyday things are a little more stressful. It puts you on edge because you’re waiting," Reno said.
The state said the delays affected only people who were supposed to receive their cards over the past few weeks, while people who already had their cards were not impacted by what Frank called a "slowdown for new cards."
Frank said no cards had to be reissued or invalidated and replaced because of the nationwide retail data breach. He said the contractor has been working its way through the delays.
"They understand people need it," he said.