The Department of Labor has rolled out a new system to make it easier for out of work Tennesseans to receive the unemployment benefits they need.
The new Telephone Certification System was implemented the first week of February.
It allows claimants to self-correct their answers to the weekly certifications they do online and reset their PIN.
Since the implementation, the state says the call volume has dropped from an average of 38,000 calls in January, down to 17,000 calls per day in March.
"We are piloting this new system to try to deal with the customer service issues," said Linda Davis, the Unemployment Insurance Administrator for the TN Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
For months, job seekers have been contacting News 2 saying they were having trouble getting through to the claims center.
In February, we met Susan Collins who was laid off from her job of nearly 30 years.
She desperately needed an unemployment check, but wasn't able to reach the unemployment office by phone.
Collins said she answered a question incorrectly during her weekly certification online.
She was unable to correct it, therefore unable to proceed, and was instructed to call the claims center.
The problem, however, was no one answered.
Collins spent seven weeks trying to get through with no luck.
"I'd call every single day, multiple times a day but no one would pick up the phone. It was really frustrating," Collins previously told News 2.
It wasn't until News 2 got involved that Collins got help.
The day after Collins' story aired, a representative from the TN Department of Labor contacted her to apologize. She received her unemployment benefits a few days later.
At the time, a spokesman for the department said calls were up 30% because of people who'd had the same issue Collins did.
"That was the cause of a tremendous number of calls coming into the claims center so the improvement in the new system is that it allows these
folks the option of self-correcting so if they hit a key incorrectly and they need to change that then the option is there. It quit the automatic lockouts," said Davis.
The upgrade to the system should help alleviate delays, but even the state says it won't fix all of the problems.
The state is working with a 42-year-old system that is currently used by only six states in the country.
There are plans to replace the entire unemployment insurance benefits system, but that won't happen for another two years.
Ideally, the department would like to hire more people to answer the calls. Currently, only 100 people do. But, the state doesn't have the money to do so. The positions are federally funded.
The department says its goal is to make sure people are paid within 21 days.
It's trying to identify other issues that are causing a backlog in the system.
The state says the best way to get through to the department is still through the email system.
If you must call, Davis said the best days to do so are later in the week when the call volume is not as high.
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