For months, the Channel 4 I-Team has been investigating the delays and backlog Tennessee jobseekers face when trying to apply for unemployment benefits. Now, we've learned the major improvements the state promised last year to reduce the delays have also been delayed for months.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which is in charge of unemployment benefits, promised new upgrades to the filing system that would make the process move faster. Instead, most of those upgrades won't happen until the summer, at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the Channel 4 I-Team continues to hear from frustrated jobseekers every day who tell us they can't get through or they're still waiting for their benefits.
Kimberly Bennett said she filed her claim online in November, but she says it took eight weeks to find out whether she was approved.
"Those eight weeks were the most stressful. You want to talk about ulcers? It's a terrible feeling," Bennett said.
Bennett said she did eventually receive her unemployment benefits in January.
The Channel 4 I-Team has been investigating the delays and backlog with Tennessee's unemployment system. Since our last investigation in November, we have learned the problem may be worse than previously thought.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development wouldn't talk with us on camera for this story, but department officials say more than 10,000 claimants are waiting more than 21 days just to get approved for benefits.
That doesn't include the time people are trying to get through to the phone or online system to file their claim in the first place.
"I have been totally unable to get through. I have tried numerous times," said jobseeker Joyce Fletcher.
When we first heard from Fletcher, she told us she had been trying for five weeks simply to get through to file a claim with no luck.
We checked back with her on Monday, and she told us she was never able to get through.
The Channel 4 I-Team even tried calling two different numbers for the phone system, but got a recorded message that said, "Due to unforeseen circumstances, the system is currently closed. Please call back at a later time or visit our website."
Last fall, the state promised jobseekers upgrades to the system to help alleviate the backlog that has been in place since the recession started.
"We've made a number of improvements, but I think really when you're talking about the new Internet filing system we're going to be kicking off in the first quarter of next year, you're going to see some dramatic improvements to the system and people will notice the difference," said Tennessee Labor Department spokesman Jeff Hentschel, in an interview last fall.
The department said those upgrades would be in place at the first quarter of the new year, but now says it will be at least July before those upgrades to the website are put in place.
In the meantime, the state said an upgrade planned by the end of this month will allow claimants to change their pin and change their answers without being locked out of the system.
The Channel 4 I-Team spoke with a lawmaker who said the state needs to do something about the long wait for unemployment benefits. We'll have that part of the story tomorrow at 6 p.m.
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