How hard is it to reach N.C. unemployment office? Even a top lawmaker can’t get through.

Even lawmakers can't get through to N.C. DES

RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - Paula Holdaway worked as a substitute teacher and at Lowe’s until the pandemic struck last year.

With classes moving on-line, teachers didn’t need Holdaway to fill in anymore. And her doctor told her to stop working at Lowe’s due to a medical condition that would make her more susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19.

She filed for unemployment and, eventually, started receiving benefits. Roughly $17,000 in all.

Then she got two letters from the N.C. Division of Employment Security saying she shouldn’t have been approved for unemployment. They wanted her to pay all of the money back.

Even lawmakers can't get through to employment services

“I have a family to support, that depends on my income,” Holdaway said. “That money has been gone on groceries, you know?”

Initially, she tried calling DES to resolve the issue but quickly got frustrated after spending hours on the phone waiting to talk with someone only to ultimately be hung up on.

That’s when a former colleague suggested she call the office of N.C. House Rules Chairman Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), one of the most powerful lawmakers in the state house.

Hall’s office tried to ask DES about Holdaway’s case. But couldn’t get an answer. It was the latest, Hall said, in a string of attempts to resolve problems for constituents that got a delayed response or no response at all from the unemployment office.

“We’ve taken their claims and we’ve tried to reach out to DES on the behalf and we’re not receiving responses,” Hall said.

So Hall joined hundreds of other people that have called WBTV over the past year in hopes of finally being able to get through to the staff at DES.

Related: Charlotte woman fights for benefits after NCDES asks for money back

“Now we’re a year into this and we’re still talking to citizens across our state who are waiting months to get these claims,” Hall said. “It’s simply unacceptable.”

At first, a spokeswoman for DES issued a statement for this story that highlighted the work the unemployment office had done with state lawmakers to help people resolve claims.

“We appreciate all that legislators and their staff do to help people navigate the unemployment benefits system, and we will continue to work hard every day to bring every claim to a timely resolution,” the statement said.

But it didn’t address how a top lawmaker like Hall could have his calls go unanswered.

On Monday morning, the day this story was set to publish, the spokeswoman wrote back a second time.

“I reached out to Rep. Hall and his legislative assistant this weekend,” the spokeswoman said. “They provided us the names of two constituents with issues, and we are addressing those now.”

That weekend call could prompt DES to finally resolve Holdaway’s issue with the unemployment office.

For now, though, Holdaway summed up her experience with the office in two words.

“Terrible. Terrible,” she said.

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