Spike in unemployment claims swamps phone system - WSMV Channel 4

Spike in unemployment claims swamps phone system

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KINGSTON SPRINGS, TN (WSMV) -

If you've had a hard time getting through on the phone to the state's unemployment office, you're not alone.

Claims have spiked in January, and that's leaving callers getting messages that no one can help them because of high call volume.

Tennessee Department of Labor spokesman Jeff Hentschel said claims always increase in January because more people lose their jobs when construction slows and retail workers are laid off.

"Normally we get 6,000 new claims each week and we are getting double that amount right now," Hentschel said.

The inability to get through is especially hard on families with children.

Jack Kapanka and his wife have four children. He was laid off from his job at Bethel University in October.

"Every time I called, I could never get through," Kapanka said.

"With four kids, it's a tough existence right now," he said.

Kapanka wondered why the Department of Labor can't hire seasonal workers to take calls, when they know there's a high volume every January.

"They could get seasonal workers, if they know this influx of calls is coming in. You need to man those phones cause there's a lot of people out there hurting," Kapanka said.

Hentschel said they can't do that because of federal guidelines and because every claims agent requires a long period of training.

The department has been steadily increasing its work force and its phone lines since the recession began, he said.

"In 2009, we had around 75 people answering around 200 phone lines. Now we have 200 people answering a queue of 600 phone lines," Hentschel said.

The Department of Labor is hiring 65 new workers, but it will be some time before they're ready to man the phone lines.

Hentschel said there is no silver bullet. The state is looking toward technology to handle claims faster. Claims can now be taken online. In the future, he hopes the state can develop an app for smartphones, but he said that is not in the immediate future.

Hentschel said people filing claims should have a realistic idea of how long it takes to start getting a check. Before the recession, it could be 21 days or less. These days, he said, it can be six or seven weeks.

The Department of Labor has created a series of videos that help walk people through the claims process.

To view the videos, click here.

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