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Kentucky Unemployment System Overwhelmed -- Capacity Increased to Handle Claims

"I encourage people to keep using the automated system especially since we have increased its capabilities instead of going to local employment services offices where they will be standing in line."

Several states have experienced higher than normal unemployment claims applications, resulting in heavy traffic to call centers and Web sites. Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio experienced system outages according to media reports, and other states were adding call center staff.

The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet is shoring up Kentucky's automated unemployment insurance (UI) claims systems to handle an unprecedented 88,195 Kentuckians who filed initial claims for regular unemployment insurance benefits in December 2008. The state paid a single-month record of more than $78.6 million in regular UI claims during December.

"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 Education and Workforce Development Secretary Helen Mountjoy. "Our agency has a tremendous responsibility as we serve our fellow Kentuckians at this difficult time and our employees on both the local and state level are making every effort to rise to the challenge."

The agency's KEWES or Kentucky Electronic Workplace for Employment Services Web site and automated Voice Response Unit (VRU) at 866-291-2926 were overwhelmed by the high volume of calls and Internet traffic that were inundating the unemployment insurance claims system starting Sunday. This resulted in busy signals and long waits for individuals attempting to file claims. People who are receiving UI must request benefit checks bi-weekly and verify they are still jobless. The automated system is available 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

"I want to emphasize that every one who is qualified to receive unemployment benefits will receive a check. No one will be penalized because of problems with the automated system," Mountjoy said. "I encourage people to keep using the automated system especially since we have increased its capabilities instead of going to local employment services offices where they will be standing in line.

"Although we were able to serve about 44,000 Kentuckians through the KEWES Web site and automated phone system Sunday through Tuesday night the system was simply overwhelmed by the number of people trying to use it at the same time," said Mountjoy.

Overall system performance has stabilized greatly since Monday but ongoing analysis is under way to identify any possible bottlenecks and ensure continuous quality improvement. As of yesterday, the number of Web site users that can be served at the same time has been doubled from 1,600 to 3,200.

"Since Monday our information technology staff has been working around the clock to build and add servers and database hardware to the KEWES system to address the problems people have been experiencing with the automated unemployment insurance claims system," said Mountjoy.

In addition, the agency has increased the number of phone lines for the automated telephone system from 384 to nearly 500 to handle the number of Kentuckians who are filing for federal extended unemployment benefits. The additional lines should help cut down on the wait time that people are experiencing.

Kentucky's seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate for November 2008, the latest month available, rose to 7 percent from October 2008's revised 6.8 percent, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training (OET). November 2007's jobless rate was 5.1 percent.

The U.S. seasonally adjusted jobless rate increased from 6.5 percent in October 2008 to 6.7 percent in November 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.