State calls problems with filing unemployment benefits ‘unacceptable’

State calls problems with filing unemployment benefits ‘unacceptable’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Many people are still frustrated about not being able to access North Carolina’s website to claim unemployment benefits.

So far, about 355,000 people in NC have made a claim, which equals about 1,000 claims per hour over the last 14 days.

Most have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

Much of the issues have been people not getting through on the phone or having the website jammed.

“This is not acceptable,” NC Commerce Assistant Secretary Lockhart Taylor said at Thursday’s press conference.

Robin Helms, from Lincolnton, says she is frustrated about making a connection.

She says she kept hitting a brick wall on the computer.

“Whenever you hit next - next - next - next,” said Helms, who was laid off of her job. “It’ll say you need to go back and finish answering these questions and I looked and the questions were answered.”

Helms is not alone in her challenges.

She finally gave up filing her claim on the computer.

“After a few times trying it,” Helms said. “It said you’re locked out - please call this number to the unemployment office.”

Helms says she has been trying to file a claim since Tuesday.

She says she has even attempted to reach somebody on the phone to get assistance. She mentions how many times she tried.

“I think close to 100,” Helms said. “Today alone I’ve called eight times.”

She says she finally spoke with somebody after a more than four-hour wait. She says that the person unlocked her claim and told her how to fix her issue.

She claims she did exactly what was told to her and she got locked out again - now she is waiting for more assistance.

State leaders admit there is a problem.

“We know that a lot of people had problems accessing our system,” Taylor said. “Or getting through on the phones. This is not acceptable. We’re taken immediate action in this historic challenge.”

Taylor says the state will be working around the clock to fix the issues.

The state is adding 350 additional positions to respond and file unemployment claims.

The state has also modified the phone system through a cloud capacity to improve quality and to be able to answer as many calls as possible.

The department is also upgrading its servers to increase the capacity of online claims.

“We hear your frustrations and we know the importance these benefits will have during times of uncertainty,” Taylor said.

Helms wonders by the time the state fixes the issues will she be back at work.

“I know several people,” Helms said. “They have called me that I work with - even that have experienced this.”

North Carolina says so far it has paid out about $8.2 million to people who said they lost their jobs because of COVID-19.

“That number is going to increase exponentially in the coming days,” Taylor said.

State leaders say it will take up to two weeks before people get their first benefit payment.

Taylor said that since the crisis started, more than 355,000 unemployment claims have been made in North Carolina.

To put that into perspective, Taylor says, is like 1,000 claims per hour over a 24 hour period for 14 days.

So far, about $8.2 million in unemployment benefits have been distributed to those claimed COVID-19 as a main reason for job loss.

“That number is going to increase exponentially in the coming days,” Taylor said.

On Saturday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper authorized three new federal unemployment programs: an additional $600 in weekly benefits, 13 additional weeks of benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is for people who are not typically eligible for state unemployment benefits. That should provide coverage for the self-employed or independent contractors.

“I want to ensure North Carolinians that we know our job is just beginning,” Taylor said. “We will not rest until we have processed every request and gotten checks to every eligible recipient in our state.”

Gov. Cooper said the first payments for unemployment were expected to go out this week.

“Thousands of workers have lost jobs, but their bills don’t stop,” Cooper said. “My administration is working overtime to get unemployment checks out now. We’ll keep pushing every day for more state and federal help to save our workers and their families.”

Workers applying for benefits must complete their weekly certifications in order to receive unemployment insurance payments. The weekly certification is a series of ‘yes or no’ questions that help determine a person’s eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits each week. If a person does not complete a weekly certification, they will not receive a payment for that week.

WBTV reached out to NC Commerce Department asking about the new call center and how long will people have before they can’t file for unemployment benefits. WBTV is still waiting on a response.

The weekly certification must be completed through the individual’s online account at des.nc.gov.

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