It’s a big fear in this economy, losing your job. With unemployment going up, the unemployment system in Massachusetts is hard hit, and a lot of you are telling us there are problems, like getting through on the phone lines.
In fact, it’s one of the most passionate topics on our Curiosity Web site.
Claude posted this comment: “This is unacceptable! There should be no delays as we need funds to pay our bills.”
WBZ’s David Wade put the system to the test.
When we called the unemployment office, what we heard many times was a variation on this recording: “Please try your call again later or on the next business day.”
And we are not alone.
“It was just impossible to get through,” says Claude, who wrote to us to complain. We’re not using his last name at his request. After phoning the unemployment system for days, Claude gave up and waited in line at an unemployment office to file his initial claim.
He thought he was set, but weeks passed and he didn’t receive a check. He was told to leave messages for a case manager, but says none of his calls were returned.
He finally sent complaining e-mails to the Governor, Secretary of State and State Treasurer.
“It took over seven weeks to get my first unemployment check,” he says. “They get a failing grade.”
David Wade brought Claude’s complaint and those of a number of viewers who posted messages on our Curiosity Web site to state Labor Secretary Suzanne Bump.
She’s in charge of the Massachusetts unemployment system. Wade asked her what grade she would give the system right now.
“I probably would have given us a C-minus at the end of November. I think we are working ourselves up to a solid B, and I hope in very short order we’ll be at least a B-plus,” she answered.
David also read Secretary Bump what some of you wrote to us.
Jason from Wilmington wrote, “Why is the unemployment office not answering their phone for more than a week?”
And Dorothy from Lynn says, “Maybe the Governor ought to call and pretend he’s unemployed and find out what it’s like.”
What does Secretary Bump have to say to these people who are frustrated?
“I can tell you that things have been improving. We’ve added lines, we’ve added staff,” she says.
In fact they’ve doubled staff and are in the process of adding about 60 more workers. They have also significantly extended hours at the call center, and are working to get first checks out faster. Right now about 82 percent of claimants get that check within three weeks.
Still, issues. While the system is built to give you a specific callback day based on your social security number, we found that doesn’t always happen.
“Occasionally you do get a message that says, sorry, now is not the time to call, call back later,” David Wade told the Labor Secretary.
She responded: “Maybe because that was your day and they wanted you to call back later that day.”
But Wade noted, “But it didn’t give those directions, it just said call later.”
“I’m not sitting on the other end of the phone hearing that with you, so I couldn’t, I don’t know,” says Bump.
We were eventually able to get into the system by being persistent, though wait times were as long as 35 minutes, except on Saturday when we got through right away.
“Folks are well advised to call later in the day, later in the week,” says Bump. That’s the best advice.
Growing unemployment is having another effect. Some states are running out of cash to cover the checks. So is Massachusetts in any danger of running out of money?
“So far we are projected to be solvent through the year, through this calendar year,” says Secretary Bump.
If needed, the state can borrow money from the federal government to make payments. Let’s hope it doesn’t get that bad.
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