Unemployment Insurance Applicants Overwhelm States' Phones

Automated phone systems in California, New York, Ohio, Kentucky and North Carolina can't handle unemployment insurance applicants.

by / January 15, 2009

Here's another symptom of the bad economy: Unemployment insurance (UI) applicants are creating a rash of automated phone system overloads affecting several states. Last week, overloads kept citizens in California and Kentucky trying for days to apply for benefits.

Unemployment claims in Kentucky are skyrocketing. The Kentucky Electronic Workplace for Employment Services Web site and automated Voice esponse Unit helped the state serve 44,000 citizens during a three-day period last week. By comparison, the entire month of December 2008 saw a total of 88,195 calls, which the state considered unprecedented. After just three days last week, Kentucky had already served half as many people as it served total throughout the previous month.

"Each one of those numbers represents Kentuckians who are facing extremely difficult days. Each person represents a Kentucky family that is worried about how they will pay the bills in this economic downturn that is sweeping the nation," said Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Secretary Helen Mountjoy.

Californians complained to media last week about busy signals or getting disconnected from the phone lines at their state's Employment Development Department (EDD). California uses a "two-tier" phone system. First, it directs callers to phone operators, but when the system reaches peek capacity, it directs those callers to a prerecorded message encouraging them to apply online, according to The Sacramento Bee. The precaution is supposed to avoid phone crashes.

At least 2 million calls a day pummeled EDD call centers during the holiday period after big employers announced layoffs scheduled for this month, EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy told The Sacramento Bee. The agency is in the process of adding more staff.

New York's phone and Internet claims system fell out of service for part of Jan. 6, but unlike the California and Kentucky systems, New York's problem was a software glitch. The authentication system used to verify filers' identities caused the system to crash. The system is fixed, and the state said it shouldn't have more problems.

North Carolina's system crashed twice last week due to overwhelming demand. The state managed to fix the problem with an additional server.



GovLog Video: The bad economy is putting added pressure on states' unemployment systems.


Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.