UPDATE: Legal Aid of Arkansas Breaks Through!
On June 9th, 2022 the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a decision ordering the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services to provide information relating to an algorithm it implemented during the pandemic to process unemployment claims. Legal Aid of Arkansas learned that the agency implemented an algorithm leading to thousands of claims being wrongfully flagged, leading to delays as long as six months to over one year for benefits. We sought information about this algorithm through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, but the state withheld the algorithm, claiming that it was exempt from FOIA. The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed that the information was subject to FOIA and must be provided. This decision is important because it helps ensure transparency in how algorithms and other technology are utilized in vital social safety net programs.
IN THE NEWS:
Arkansas Supreme Court rules state agency must turn over unemployment information. June 10, 2022
"Legal Aid Arkansas said many of its clients had trouble qualifying and receiving unemployment during the pandemic. The nonprofit filed a Freedom of Information Act request with DWS in Oct. 2020, according to the Supreme Court's ruling. "
Supreme Court upholds access to information about unemployment benefit applications, June 9, 2022.
"The Arkansas Supreme Court today upheld a lower court ruling that the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services had not complied with the Freedom of Information Act in a request for information from Legal Aid of Arkansas about applications for unemployment assistance and means used to ferret out fraudulent claims."
Legal Aid Sues Division of Workforce Services as Unemployment Benefit Issues Persist, KUAF. February 25, 2021.
"DWS has repeatedly refused to turn over records requested through the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act that might provide a better understanding of why scores of Arkansans haven't been abele to access unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic."
State agency sued over FOIA requests about jobless aid, Talk Business & Politics. February 23, 2021.
"As of December 18, 2020, more than 26,000 unemployment claims awaited a decision, with about one-fourth waiting longer than three months, the nonprofit said. Some clients were told they could wait as long as six months for an initial decision, with appeals waiting three or four months longer."
Legal Aid sues state for data on jobless-aid denials, Arkansas Democrat Gazette. February 23, 2021.
Legal Services sues Workforce Services over refusal to provide information about unemployment benefits process, Arkansas Times. February 22, 2021.
“We granted DWS several extensions, offered to sit down for meetings, and tried asking only for the most important information,” states Legal Aid attorney Jaden Atkins. Nearly a year into the pandemic, DWS has not improved its handling of claims.