Unemployment system upgrade not working for all

Unemployment system upgrade not working for all

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Randall Tilley is a heavy equipment operator in Roane County. He was laid off earlier this year. He knows he'll be able to get work again next month, but until then, he says, it's been a struggle. Randall Tilley is a heavy equipment operator in Roane County. He was laid off earlier this year. He knows he'll be able to get work again next month, but until then, he says, it's been a struggle.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

TEN MILE (WATE) - 6 News viewers have called in to tell us about their problems with unemployment claims. They just can't seem to get someone on the phone to get answers or fix an issue. In the last few weeks, Tennessee's labor department has rolled out some upgrades to its unemployment hotlines, but is that enough?

Randall Tilley is a heavy equipment operator in Roane County. He was laid off earlier this year. He knows he'll be able to get work again next month, but until then, he says, it's been a struggle.

"We cannot take your call at this time. Please try again later." That's the message Tilley says he gets every time he calls the unemployment claims center, trying to reach a real person to check on his application.

"I start off calling in the mornings from like 8:00. I spend probably an hour, keep calling back and keep getting the same recording," he said.

The Tennessee Labor Department says the system is actually better than it was. Upgrades to the automated line mean claimants can now self-correct answers to the weekly certification questions. They can also reset their PIN without ever having to call the claims center.

"The old system was in place for a number of years and if a claimant answered a question incorrectly, it automatically locked them out of the entire system," says Linda Davis, the state's unemployment insurance administrator.

She says that change in February means fewer people need to speak to a live person. Call center numbers dropped from 38,000 calls a day in January to 17,000 a day in March, but with only 100 employees available to answer, that's still an overwhelming number.

"We will continue to experience higher call volume than what we have agents to answer those calls, but we are looking at root causes of why those calls are coming into the system," said Davis.

Tilley hopes they find another way to fix the system, and fast.

"It's hard to keep waiting when you've got bills and a kid to take care of," he said.

There are plans to replace the entire unemployment benefits system, but that won't happen for another two years. The state would like to hire more people to answer the calls, but they say it's out of their hands because the positions are federally funded.

The state says the best way to get through to the department is online. 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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