State unemployment system getting back up to speed - WSMV News 4

State unemployment system getting back up to speed

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There’s some good news for Tennesseans who are waiting for unemployment benefits.

Nine months after a system upgrade caused delays for thousands of applicants, there has been some significant progress.

The Channel 4 I-Team has been tracking the Tennessee Department of Labor’s efforts to fix the problem since last summer. Just this week, we learned the system upgrade is working the way it’s supposed to.

For months, we heard complaint after complaint.

"I have applied, it's been five weeks but I have still not received the first payment,” said Tamela Ensrud when the I-Team interviewed her in September.

“What's going on? Where are the people who work there?" asked Chasta Brewer, who lost her job last summer.

"I've tried calling. You can't talk to anyone,” Melissa Dixon told the I-Team in November.

But for the first time in nine months, the majority of people waiting on benefits are getting paid within three weeks of filing for unemployment.

Since the upgrade last spring, wait times have been far behind federal guidelines, which require 87 percent of people to get paid within three weeks.

“We have people working six days a week to clear this backlog and get people paid in a timely manner,” said Department of Labor spokesperson Chris Cannon.

The Department of Labor tells the I-Team 30 additional workers were brought in last month to field calls, now making it possible to get a live person on the phone when applicants call.

The number of people now waiting longer than 21 days to get paid is 1,607, the lowest it has been since the upgrade.

"We haven't had a complaint in weeks,” said Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, who sits on a Senate committee that deals with unemployment issues.

Since last summer, Green has received dozens of calls from frustrated job-seekers, many of them the same people contacting the I-Team.

Last month, Green started receiving weekly progress reports from Commissioner Burns Phillips at the Department of Labor updating him and other lawmakers on the progress the department is making.

“Your stories helped get the dialogue going, the complaints for constituents got the dialogue going. The committees starting talking to one another and they're like, OK, we need some reports from the department,” Green said.

The Department of Labor says they continue chipping away at that backlog, getting through about 1,000 claims a week.

“We are updating them on a weekly basis, giving them the latest numbers so they know what's going on and they can see the progress as it happens,” Cannon said.

"We listened, we heard and we pushed the issue, and you guys joined in the course and we got it fixed,” Green said.

The Department of Labor says their goal is to get back to that place where 87 percent of claims are getting paid within 21 days, which is where the department was before the system upgrade happened.

They're not quite there yet, but with the system working the way it's intended, they believe they will be in the next few weeks. The I-Team will continue to follow their progress.

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