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Archive for Sunday, November 30, 2008

Unemployment claims overtax system

Keeping up with benefits a struggle for state agency

Many of the state's unemployed have been put on hold when it comes to unemployment benefit claims.

November 30, 2008

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Making the call

• Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be the busiest days for the call center. Kansas Department of Labor, which oversees the program, recommends trying to call later in the week.

• Most beneficiaries can file online. The Web address is www.uibenefits.dol.ks.gov. The site also has answers to the most frequently asked questions.

• Callers can use the Department of Labor’s main line, (785) 296-5000. While you won’t get your question answered at that number, they will be able to take a message, pass it along to the call center and have someone call you back.

Last summer when Beth Meyers needed to straighten out a mix-up with her unemployment benefit claims, she dialed up the state’s unemployment call center looking for help.

She got put on hold instead.

After waiting nearly 30 minutes, she hung up and tried again. And again. And again.

“If you have to actually talk to a human being, well, your life span isn’t that long,” Meyers joked.

Meyers, who uses the voice automated system weekly to file her benefit claims, never had a problem with the call center before. She eventually solved the issue by walking into the Lawrence Workforce Center and asking for help.

Frustration rising

As unemployment rises, so do frustrations with accessing the state’s unemployment phone lines, said Rodney Carr, who is a workforce development representative at the local center.

He sees clients who wait more than an hour to talk to someone on the phone. And those are the lucky ones. Many — after entering basic information on the voice activated system — get booted off because the system just can’t handle so many callers on hold.

“It is frustrating, it is extremely frustrating what they are going through at this point,” Carr said.

A lot of callers — such as Meyers — look to the workforce center for guidance. But the center is under a different department and has a specific mission to assist its clients in finding jobs, so it can’t provide much help on unemployment issues.

The most the workforce center can do is pass along phone numbers and information on how to file a claim online.

“If we put too much of our time to work with unemployment, we are getting away from our mission here,” Carr said.

Finding a fix

Kansas Department of Labor, which oversees the state’s unemployment insurance program, is well aware of the long waits, communications director Megan Ingmire said.

To file unemployment claims — which those receiving benefits must do weekly — Kansans must either file online or use the phone system. For people with special circumstances or questions, the phone line is the only place for help.

A combination of higher unemployment numbers, a federal program that extended benefits by 13 weeks and the state’s switch to debit cards all have added to caller volume, Ingmire said.

The department has hired nine more customer service representatives, and some are working at night and on weekends to answer calls. Currently, the Topeka-based call center has 85 customer service representatives. The goal is to return calls within 24 hours.

“We really are working diligently and as hard and as fast as possible so that we can answer everyone’s questions and meet their needs,” Ingmire said.

Outdated technology

The department is also looking to update its equipment. Right now, the phone queue can’t handle more than 200 people at one time. That means the 201st caller — and anyone after that — gets kicked off the system.

The department also is looking at new technology that would allow customer service representatives to more easily pull up clients’ records.

Kansas is doing better than most states, Ingmire said. In October, the Kansas unemployment rate was at 4.5 percent, which is well below the national average of 6.1 percent.

Last month, the state paid out $42 million in benefits. The state’s unemployment trust fund, which employers pay into, has $615 million for the next year.

Building patience

Still, with a bleak economy and the likelihood of unemployment numbers increasing, Ingmire couldn’t say when wait times will decrease.

“It might be a while until it gets better. We are doing the best we can. We encourage callers to be patient, and we will respond to them as soon as we possibly can,” Ingmire said.

For many of the clients coming into the Lawrence Workforce Center, patience is in short supply. The long waits have sparked threats of violence from some callers, Carr said.

As for Meyers, who has been searching for work since her job as operations manager of the Lawrence-based NewsTV Crews evaporated, she was able to get a direct line from the workforce center and resolve the mix-up with her unemployment benefits.

And the memory of the long wait is something she has filed away for future calls.

“It is a matter of now knowing that I’m dealing with a slow bureaucracy and just not letting that turn me into something with teeth and claws,” she said.

Comments

TheStig 6 years ago

"Last summer when Beth Meyers needed to straighten out a mix-up with her unemployment benefit claims, she dialed up the state’s unemployment call center looking for help. She got put on hold instead. After waiting nearly 30 minutes, she hung up and tried again. And again. And again."Somebody has to say it. If Beth Meyers were this persistent at getting a job she wouldn't be on unemployment.

TheStig 6 years ago

BABBOY (Anonymous) says… "Somebody has to say it. If the Thestig was not such a flipping jerk off, I would not have insult him.ROFLMAO!

TheStig 6 years ago

Yep, President elect Obama will make sure you all get your unemployment and welfare checks without any problem. Change We Can Hope For!

Danimal 6 years ago

Unemployment is doing exactly what it is supposed to do right now, helping the recently unemployed in times of economic turmoil. Everyone that keeps crowing about how many jobs are available probably hasn't been out looking for jobs recently. Furthermore, if you lose your job, because unemployment is available, you might as well access it instead of getting a job that will pay $7 an hour because unemployment pays out more than that. There's nothing wrong with accessing unemployment during the most rapid economic downturn since the Great Depression. For those of you in denial, things are about to get a little rough for the next couple years.

jonas_opines 6 years ago

Larry_The_Moocher "There are many many jobs available… all you have to do is want to work."Since you keep talking about all these jobs that you have a lead on, without really giving any details, I was hoping you could let us know which ones they are. I assume that you have a job, or are retired, so if you know of all of these, it seems a wonderful public service to share them with the rest of the people who might want them, because I've heard, actually, that there aren't that many jobs right now. So spill it, Larry. Which jobs are you talking about?

TheStig 6 years ago

Jobs aren't generic they require skills and abilities. I am sad to report I know of no openings for blowhards who can roll a mean doobie. However, given Beth's ability to call and harass dead beat government slugs, I bet there are a few opening for credit counselors to run down dead beats borrowers or in telemarketing.According to the Top Ads (above the "Marketplace" ad for Kief's Audio/Video), Dental Assistant needed for growing practice, Plant Coordinator for Sunflower Broadband, Drivers for the empTy, and a receptionist for respected dental office Those were found without leaving this page. If you need a job while you go to school try WalMart, McDonalds, and The Merc (according to merrill they pay $17.50/hour with full benefits for unskilled labor and are forming a labor union).Now don't tell me these jobs are beneath anyone who is collecting welfare, food stamps, and unemployment.

jonas_opines 6 years ago

Tell us which jobs you're talking about!

jonas_opines 6 years ago

Wow, you had to make up a lot of things to make that work, didn't you?

jonas_opines 6 years ago

. . . Kind of like Larry and his many, many jobs?

jonas_opines 6 years ago

That all you got, Larry? Meaningless examples devoid of detail and unfounded insults?Kind of what I thought, but good to have confirmation.

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