CT Labor Commissioner Says They Are ‘Moving in the Right Direction' on Unemployment Claims

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As of April 23, Connecticut's Department of Labor said it had processed 81% of the 400,000-plus claims it has received since March 13.  That’s $230 million in coronavirus-related unemployment benefits. 

Before the crisis hit, the Department of Labor says it had five people to answer phone calls.

“To do what we’ve done we’ve more than quadrupled staff, we’ve been working overtime, weekends, all staff have been relentless in getting claims done and getting benefits out the door even under the same coronavirus threat of everyone else,” said DOL Commissioner Kurt Westby.

Now, efforts will turn to those who haven’t been able to apply for unemployment, like the self-employed. They’ll be able to start applying for benefits on April 30.  As far as the extra $600 per week from the federal government, the Westby said that’s coming Monday.  As for those who were unemployed before the coronavirus crisis and exhausted their benefits, a system to accept those claims won’t be up and running until mid-May.

“If anyone runs out of benefits there will be a lapse but once that system is up the benefits will be retroactive assuming they meet the requirements,” Westby admitted.

There are still an unknown number of people who have had issues getting their claim processed or paid out.

“People are just getting frustrated because they feel like they’re being deceived,” said Vivian Sheen of Southington.

The Department of Labor encouraged filers to put April 15 as the end date of their unemployment claim.

NBC Connecticut Chief Investigative Reporter Len Besthoff looks into the challenges the state Department of Labor is still facing processing some unemployment claims

“That forces a claim into a fully automated system, one that is much quicker than the standard claim system,” said Dante Bartolomeo, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Labor.

Sheen said both her sons stopped getting unemployment after April 15.

“They tell you how to do it and you do it the way they ask, they should be looking to see if the way they asked you to do it is functioning properly,” said Sheen. “There’s really no excuse for things like that.”

She said she eventually figured out a workaround by claiming a missed week. That corrected the most recent problem but she worries she’ll now have to go into the system every week, despite being told by the DOL via email not to do so.

A DOL spokesperson told NBC Connecticut that filers, "will get an email from the Labor Department if their claim is going from being categorized as a Temporary Shutdown Claim to a Standard Claim. The email will advise them when and how to begin filing their weekly claim. They will file by logging into http://www.filectui.com and use the green button to file."

Westby said a technical fix has also sped up the amount of time it takes to process a claim.

 “We’ve reduced the prior six week wait time to at least half of that so far,” Westby said.

He added that the turnaround time on claims should soon be just a week. 

The DOL also said it’s responding to 3,000 emails a day, but many NBC Connecticut viewers have told us they haven’t gotten a response.

“I have sent an email every week that this has been going on for four weeks now and I have not heard back from anybody,” said Maureen Nichols of Greenwich.

Nichols was laid off from her job in February.  Her unemployment benefits don’t run out until August.  When the COVID-19 crisis struck, her active claim was suddenly put on hold.

“I am worried.  I have a little money to keep me going but then, then I have nothing,” said Nichols.

Nichols said she hasn’t gotten a check since March.  She checks the DOL website every day for updates.  She didn’t get a response to her emails, so she called.  She said she was told to send an email to the same addresses she’s been trying for weeks.

 “She verbatim read off the response that’s listed in the website question answer document,” Nichols said of the phone call with a Department of Labor employee.

Bartolomeo admitted the extra people hired to answer phone calls at the DOL don’t have the “highly technical skills" to be able to answer more than just general questions.  She said they have a desk aid to help direct the caller to the proper place.

“They cannot fix or correct a claim but they can talk them through how to get that done,” she said.

NBC Connecticut reached out to the DOL about Nichols' issue.  After our interview Nichols was contacted by a DOL spokesperson. She was told that within 48 hours money would be deposited into her account.  Nichols said she was told that her claim history showed two weeks of full payments and two weeks of partial payments. 

She said the DOL informed her that when she went back to file for a full payment after her temp work ended her claim was put on hold.  Normally it would be checked by the DOL within a day or two but because of the unprecedented amount of claims, it was never taken off hold, she said she was told.

Bartolomeo said the DOL is now manually fixing claims like Nichols’ and Sheen’s at a rate of 500 to 1,000 a day.  However, she wouldn’t say how many claims total need to be fixed.

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