Connecticut’s decades-old unemployment system is struggling to keep up with the demand.
The state says it’s received 220,000 claims in the last three weeks. That’s more than it usually receives in a year.
Less than half have been processed and many of unemployed workers have expressed frustration with the backlog.
“It leaves you almost in a panic kind of sense. I have no idea when I’m going to get paid again. I have no idea when I’m even going to return to work,” said John Pierce of Bristol.
Pierce was let go from his job at a Farmington dental lab in mid-March. Online, his unemployment claim says he’s returned to work which he said is not true. However, when he called the DOL he said no one could answer his concern.
“I went through at least 13 different people but it was just one circumventing thing of people passing me from one phone call to the next to the next to the next,” said Pierce. “It’s incredibly frustrating when you know that the money you do have is dwindling and day by day you’re trying to get a hold of someone to make sure your situation is OK.”
“We need more people to help, some human contact, to be able to explain our situations because everyone's situation is a little different,” said Bristol resident Diana Maciag.
Her husband, Mike Stanco, was forced to file for unemployment after his Bristol barbershop was shut down by the health department on March 17.
“It was a little nerve-wracking and scary to be put in this situation to not have to work but then for the first time in my life have to file for unemployment,” he recalled.
They filed for unemployment immediately.
“We waited and we checked every single day and nothing had come until March 25,” said Maciag.
An email told the couple to take the next step in the process the following Sunday, but when they followed the instructions the couple ran into another roadblock.
“What popped up immediately was a window that said you missed a week of filing and basically there was nothing we could do,” said Maciag.
They now have to wait another five to seven days for a new response.
“It was a letdown because I thought maybe something fell through the cracks or maybe that was going to be money that I was going to lose ultimately,” said Stanco.
The family of four has another baby on the way, due in May.
“The bulk of our income comes from the barbe shop and Mike’s work. That’s where we pay our bills from and to not have any income from that it’s a huge setback for us,” Maciag pointed out.
The couple said they also got nowhere when they called the labor department the next morning.
“Kept getting busy signal after busy signal. We tried every option, every number we could come up with and there is no live person we can talk to,” recalled Maciag.
Like so many others, they’re still waiting for answers.
“It’s so far away from the human touch and you’re just left there wondering every single day,” said Pierce.
Shortcomings in 40-Year Old System Exposed by Pandemic
According to Department of Labor spokesperson Nancy Steffens, the agency typically receives 3,000 new claims a week. Of the 200,000 claims the agency received in the first two weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, it processed over 80,000 by shifting staff responsibilities, borrowing former DOL staff that had gone to other agencies, and retirees according to Steffens. She said it could take five weeks to process the rest of the claims because of the backlog.
“The five weeks and I haven’t even gotten a response back just makes me feel that I’m going to be put off even further than that five weeks which is disheartening,” said Stanco.
Steffens pointed claimants to the following information:
1) FAQs updated daily on CTDOL website: http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/DOLCOVIDFAQ.PDF
2) File claim applications at: www.filectui.com
3) Tutorial for filing Unemployment claims (pictorial step-by-step): http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/UI-OnLine/Guide%20for%20Filing%20CT%20Unemployment%20Claims.pdf
She added that the DOL has determined that it can process claims quicker if a person filing a claim files as a "temporary shutdown" when they select the blue button on filectui.com to file online. She said you must file a return to work date of six weeks or less even if that is not the case and follow the instructions exactly to help speed up the process.