Newly jobless frustrated by difficulty in filing for unemployment benefits

Posted March 30, 2020 11:23 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2020 2:31 p.m. EDT

— Almost 300,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits in North Carolina in the last two weeks, and the crush is causing long wait times on the phone and online – and plenty of frustration.

Filing for unemployment is usually a pretty easy process in North Carolina, but it has been anything but easy for those who have tried over the last couple of weeks.

"I've never had this problem before getting on the website or getting in touch with someone," Lakeica White said Monday.

White used to work in a middle school cafeteria. She's been unemployed before, collecting benefits with no problems, but the single mother now wonders how she can pay her rent in the coming months.

"You don't know if you can get your bills or whatever because you don't have no income at all. So you have to have some other resource," she said.

The state is used to processing 3,000 claims a week, but with the coronavirus-related shutdowns of many businesses, the Division of Employment Security is getting about 20,000 per day.

"We did have to increase our server capacity, so yeah, we are certainly seeing a larger amount of people coming online, not only to our website but the actual claims application," state Department of Commerce spokesman Larry Parker said.

The more powerful servers haven't stopped all problems. People like soon-to-be-former Dell engineer Phil Bradham say they are having problems even setting up an account.

"I've been calling the number they have for support, and it's an automated message after the first two-and-a-half minutes," Bradham said. "It says they are at a high call volume and to try again later, and then it disconnects you."

"We are working on here in the building trying to put a triage group together to help some of these folks who are having online account issues," Parker said.

The state is hiring 50 more people to handle unemployment claims, and officials ask people filing for benefits to be patient as they work through the surge.

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