DOL: Launch of New Benefits System Goes ‘Smoothly;' Users See Red

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The US jobless rate will be released Friday with numbers that one state official says we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

Connecticut’s commissioner at the Department of Labor added that our state is not immune.

Kurt Westby said Connecticut’s unemployment rate is hovering between 18% and 20%.

Westby said his department has made it through 89% of the nearly 500,000 unemployment claims it’s received since mid-March. 

Thursday, it launched the second part of the process that the self-employed will use to get their federal unemployment benefit, called PUA.

“We’ve worked around the clock, we’ve met our goal,” Westby told the media.  “We’re just thrilled about that.”

While Westby cheered that progress, those using the system had mixed results.

“They probably met the deadline to put the red button in but it’s not fully working,” said Flammarion Candido.

The Danbury man works as a pastor and driver.  He hasn’t gotten a paycheck since March.  When he went to finish his application Thursday morning he said the system asked him to start over.

“It cannot find my regular claim,” said Candido.

Starting over means reapplying for state benefits, waiting for a denial letter to come in the mail from the state, and then entering that information in the new system set up for the federal benefit for the self-employed.

Thursday, Deputy Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo blamed issues in the new system on user error.

“Either they didn’t finish their application or they didn’t fully push the application through, so we don’t have it,” she said.

Felice Danielson, a self-employed music teacher in Southington, said neither she nor her business have made any money since March 15.

The system told her that her name and social security number didn’t match their records and after three tries she was locked out.

“It was an immediate stop sign in my face.  You are invalid,” she said. "I tried not to cry."

A message from the help center said they would get back to her in five to 10 business days. 

“I don’t have 10 business-I don’t have that time, I don’t have that time,” said Danielson, who worried the longer she waits the more her business is in jeopardy.

Bartolomeo also blamed the lockouts on user error.

“Some of it is a disconnect between how information was entered from one system to the other.  So, we’re watching that constantly,” she said.

Danielson said she entered her information slowly and double checked everything on the screen.

“I only have one name and one social security number,” she pointed out.

A week ago, officials said payments to the self-employed would start going out Friday.  Thursday, Barolomeo said they could take up to a week for those who chose direct deposit and between ten days and three weeks for those who don’t. 

“It’s kind of frustrating because we didn’t expect this to go on for many weeks,” said Candido.

Tricia Canterbury has been trying since mid-March to sign up her son for unemployment benefits. 

Nineteen-year-old Collin is self-employed as a courier.

Canterbury said she has tried calling the Department of Labor every day for six weeks.

“The longest stint on hold was eight hours, and 11 minutes, and 49 seconds,” she recalled.

Not once, she says, did she get a live person on the line nor a response to any of her daily emails.

“I have never been so excited to see this red button.  Clicked on the button and started the process,” said Canterbury, who believes she was able to complete the application successfully.

It’s a process that the DOL said would be up and running a week ago.  The date came and went with users only able to complete the first half.  The red button, allowing them to finish their applications, arrived Thursday. 

Canterbury said she wished the DOL had been more honest about the problems plaguing the system from the start.

“Why wouldn’t you think that those phone numbers that you’re providing people for information purposes are not now flooded with phone calls.  It’s like you’ve created your own nightmare when it’s all avoidable.  Just tell the truth,” she said.

Thursday’s message from the DOL’s leaders was that the system is working.

“Everything is reported to be running smoothly on our end.  We have not found any glitches,” said Bartolomeo.

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