Jobless Struggle To Reach Unemployment Offices

By Staff
September 17, 2009

Jobless workers are meeting with frustration when trying to get in touch with overloaded unemployment offices.

"I understand there's a lot of people on unemployment," said Kirk Lively, who told KWCH Eyewitness News 12 that he attempted to call the Wichita, Kansas, unemployment office more than 200 times within four days. "But for those of us who need the unemployment, we can't get through."

Each time he called, he spent four minutes dialing through automated menus, after which he was told that the system was overloaded and was disconnected.

Cynthia Paulson of Mesa, Arizona, experienced similar problems: She spent weeks trying to reach her local unemployment office as her payments stopped arriving. To make matters worse, she had shut off her landline and kept her cell phone to save money, but she couldn't afford the cost of holding for up to 45 minutes. In the end, she drove 26 miles to use the phones at the local unemployment office to reach the main office in Phoenix.

"I just got so aggravated," she told Her benefits resumed after a few weeks, but she is still owed one week of pay.

In Wisconsin, the Associated Press reports that callers trying to reach the Milwaukee unemployment office in August were disconnected 86 percent of the time. Officials noted that the phone system automatically drops calls so people don't wait too long on the phone.

Throughout the country, unemployment offices are being inundated with claims. "There's been this huge volume of activity that we really haven't seen since World War II," said Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for California's Employment Benefit Department, who was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News. "That's what we're up against."

California officials said it takes about 17 times before a live operator is reached at the department, and that nearly two-thirds of the 18.9 million calls received last month were rejected because the phone service was too busy. But that was an improvement over last spring, when there were less workers at the department, and it took an average of 42 times to get through and 85 percent of the calls were rejected.

Rick McHugh, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, who was interviewed by, recommended that those who have attempted to get through to the unemployment office without success contact their governor or state legislator. He also urged people to read instructions carefully on Web sites or documents before filling out a claim.

Hal Bergan, administrator of unemployment insurance for Wisconsin, also advised people not to call on Mondays. "All across the country, unemployment offices are jammed with calls on Monday," he explained. "People often get laid off on Friday and file Monday. It's worth it sometimes to hold off business for later in the week when we can more likely be responsive."

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