Clogging of State Unemployment Phones Leads to Extra Service

“The Washington Employment Security Department has reported it is taking action to speed the filing of Unemployment Insurance claims, according to Commissioner Carver Gayton.“Too many of our customers are having difficulty calling in to file through our new automated TeleCenter system,” Gayton said. “While the technology is sound and the system will get faster as it is fully staffed, the current difficulties are unacceptable. We have already started to make changes and more will follow.”Effective this week, limited in-person applications for benefits will be taken at local field offices to attempt to reduce the call volume at the TeleCenters. Unemployed workers are urged to first try calling the phone centers, prior to filing in person.If claimants have continued difficulty getting through on the telephone, they may visit their nearest department office for assistance. The department is redirecting staff with claims processing experience to serve claimants, and will be training another 60 workers for the understaffed TeleCenters.This temporary move back to some in-person services follows on the heels of what was to be the final move of claimants to a telephone-based approach. As department officials saw TeleCenter staff overloaded with phone calls and with customer complaints rising, the state decided to shift to a dual approach to serve claimants during the busy winter layoff period.TeleCenters processed 40,000 applications for unemployment benefits in October. The volume is expected to increase to 55,000 this month, and historically rises as high as 71,000 by December, according to the state. The TeleCenters are receiving double this volume on issues unrelated to filing a claim.The changes are expected to make a significant dent in the workload and substantially speed service at the state’s TeleCenters, but officials caution it could be several weeks before improvements are complete.The Tacoma TeleCenter phone number is 253-396-3500, or in Spanish at 253-396-3563.”