To facilitate disaster recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) is shifting its focus from taking claims for unemployment benefits to offering special services to employers, in addition to its regular services.
MDES has established a new toll-free number, (866) 806-0272, for a special project being implemented to assist employers with filing required wage and tax information. Employers may call this telephone number on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. for help with wage reporting and business change reporting. Information and assistance will help expedite the resolution of any state unemployment tax issue.
“The MDES Office of Workforce Operations determined that additional resources were needed for MDES to be able to meet the needs of the employer community,” said MDES spokesperson Liz Barnett. “A special tax project was identified to assist employers in securing current and prior unemployment tax returns.”
MDES will assist employers in recovering and estimating lost or destroyed employer wage and tax information from its database for use in filing third quarter unemployment tax and wage reports. With 55,128 employers in the state, MDES estimates that 8,469 employers could have delinquent accounts. Delinquent employers’ historical wage record information will be used for the recovery effort. Tax and collection representatives will be available to help employers with the reconstruction of third quarter 2005 and prior wage information.
“MDES realized that employers affected by Hurricane Katrina may not have the ability to report their wage and tax information in the manner accustomed, and there was an urgent need to assist employers with the reconstruction of the third quarter 2005 and prior wage information,” said Barnett.
All notices and charge statements have been suspended until December 31, 2005. Interest and penalty would be waived for tax payments that are due October 31 for the third quarter 2005. Payments due prior to October 2005 or that become due after December 31 will be subject to penalty and interest.
“The project is just getting underway,” explained Barnett. “Temporary tax field representatives and temporary state office staff have been hired to meet the demands and the expected increase in the workload … and will begin training (the week of November 7). MDES anticipates that employers with damaged and lost records will need our assistance.”
MDES is available for assistance to employers through a variety of services via the new toll free number and the Katrina Employer Hotline, (866) 794-6329, the Web site, www.mdes.ms.gov, and other free resources targeted to serve employers’ needs. The Web site has links for both employers to post jobs and job seekers to search for jobs. The network of WIN Job Centers across the state provides the mechanism for supporting the employment needs of businesses.
“We have tried to increase our outreach and public information efforts to focus on making the connection of people to jobs,” said Barnett. Through the Katrina Employer Hotline, for example, “an individual actually answers the phone and takes the information about the job listing. A follow-up process is also in place to monitor referrals and placements. Emphasis is also placed on the free services to employers at the local WIN Job Centers across the state, as well as our Web site. We have Business Outreach staff located around the state to inform businesses of our services and assist with their hiring or employee training needs.”
Because of the total destruction within the disaster area, MDES anticipates a huge influx in account activity to include address changes, cancellation of accounts, new registrations, the re-mailing of blank quarterly reporting forms and the verification of the actual status of accounts. It is estimated that 6,775 employer status issues will be handled between the third and fourth quarter reporting periods, said Barnett.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.