With unemployment in the U.S. officially hitting a 25-year high of 8.1% last week, state unemployment systems have struggled to keep up with the need. Computer and telephone systems have crashed, and most states simply don't have enough live staffers to process claims.
As a result, people are sitting on the phone for hours, only to be cut off by overloaded phone systems. Computers are crashing while people try to file. Other people are waiting weeks and even months for much-needed benefits checks.
If you're having trouble getting through to unemployment, or aren't getting the benefits you believe you're qualified for, there aren't a lot of options, as the readers commenting on this post have experienced.
In a recent story on NPR's Marketplace Money, Andrew Stettner of the National Employment Law Project recommended that if you're having problems with unemployment, contact your union or your state elected representative or member of Congress. Stettner told the show:
Then again, the story goes on to tell the story of another person for whom this didn't work.
Still, elected officials do need to hear about the problems you're having with the unemployment system. This might create some pressure on them to update aging computer and phone systems and hire more staff.
Of course, all those things cost money. And here's the problem. If a bank wants to update the computer software on all its ATM machines or their phone systems, they simply do it and pass the cost on to consumers through higher fees and interest rates. If a government agency needs to update its computer systems, their only source of revenue is taxes. As long as the tax-cut brigade keeps chipping away at revenues, government can't invest in computer systems or people, and we find ourselves in this situation.
If you're having trouble with your unemployment benefits:
- Be persistent and be polite. The workers at unemployment are overloaded and stressed. Some of them may be at risk of layoffs too.
- Document everything from the moment you are laid off, including every piece of paper you get from your employer and from the unemployment agency. Keep notes on every conversation you have with your employer or with unemployment, and be sure to get the names of the people you talk to.
- Contact your elected officials and let them know what's going on.
- Don't be afraid to turn to your local social service agencies for help to get you through these tough times.