NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – A top official with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said that the unemployment application system is about to get a little easier for those who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chris Cannon, Communications Administrator for state’s department of labor told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the state is taking several steps to streamline and improve the online application process.
“Tens of thousands of people access the Jobs4TN.gov website each and every day since this pandemic started and it has created a demand issue on the system, we know that there are responsiveness problems with the system and we know that’s not the best customer service we want to provide and there are several avenues that we’re trying to take to improve the responsiveness of the system. One of them is – and it’s a long-term fix – is creating more capacity with additional servers. The state has ordered additional servers for its vendor and we are waiting for the production of those servers to take place. So, once the servers are produced and sent to the vendor, they will install them and that will create a tremendous amount of server capacity. Once the servers are in place, we can expand the capacity, and then the system will be able to handle more demand on it. Right now, it’s just simply overwhelmed because so many people are accessing the system to file for unemployment, to certify each week, that has created a slow response time for many people and we have been working to improve that. Another thing we’re doing is certifications, weekly certifications, most people do that on Sundays, we are in the process right now of starting staggered certification days. We hope to have this in place this week, hopefully, and that will stagger the number of certifications per day, so it’ll go by the persons last digit in their social security number. So, if your last digit is 0 to 3 in your social security number, you will have access to certify on Sundays, and then on Monday and Tuesday for the rest of the numbers in a social security number. That’ll spread the demand over three days, so there aren’t several hundred thousand people trying to access the system all on one day, so it’ll spread that demand over three days and it’ll give claimants much more experience, a better experience using the system, we hope.”Chris Cannon, TN Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development
Andrea Sees is one of those who lost her job due to the shutdown of non-essential businesses. She said even opening the website to try to check your status is tricky.
“I usually get on the computer, try and pull the website up, then I go make a sandwich, come back – still nothing,” she told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.
Anna Fields has been a server at The Angry Italian in Bristol for 2 years. As a mother of three teenage girls, she says she’s been fortunate with prompt unemployment payments, but she has been lucky.
Many across the state have trouble accessing the department of labor’s website.
Abigail Honeycutt, at the beginning of the wave of COVID-19 layoffs, started a Facebook group aiming to offer a platform for those without resources to help others through the process of applying for unemployment benefits.
“We started this with the original notion that the biggest challenge for people in my industry was going to be that many of them do not even have computers, many of them don’t have internet, a lot of them don’t have vehicles, so my original thought was that we were going to be connecting people without devices to people with devices,” Honeycutt said. “This was going to be a means of connecting actual resources, equipment, it rapidly evolved from there to people sort of helping one another, troubleshooting issues for one another.”
She quickly realized that many workers in the hospitality industry did not have the resources to file for unemployment. Cannon said the state is working to offer those without internet access the ability to file anyway.
“We know that there are still people out there who don’t have computers, who don’t have great internet access, or just have problems using computers and you can always file your unemployment claim over the phone. We do have call agents who can assist people and help them file that claim over the phone. Our call centers right now are very overwhelmed, just like the system is, we’ve added this week another 50 call agents to increase our numbers there and to provide better customer service so folks can call in if they don’t have access to the internet, they can call in and apply over the phone but again, by far the most efficient and fast way to file for unemployment is by doing it online,” Cannon said.
Cannon added that there are guidelines available online that aim to help applicants answer questions on their unemployment benefits application.