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CT DOL: Turnaround Has Begun

The agency is tripling phone center staff to keep up with the surge in unemployment needs.

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The Connecticut Department of Labor has remained one of the pain points in the coronavirus crisis, with 24,000 unemployment applications currently needing to be processed.

However, in an exclusive interview with NBC Connecticut Investigates, the agency urged people to be patient, saying it has begun turning things around.

Sue Harrington of Branford explained she calls the Connecticut Department of Labor regularly to find out the status of her unemployment claim.  The office worker said she has not received benefits for eight weeks, and counting.

“I start at probably about 10 of eight every day and I dial and I dial, and I redial.  Now people have had success, I have not,” Harrington said.

The agency said staffers currently answer an average of 3,000 calls per day.

DOL Commissioner Kurt Westby pointed out a lot of claims get held up by human error, such as a wrong Social Security number, auto-fill entering incorrect information, and people using a different name than what the DOL has on file. 

He added the agency will have a new, $4 million phone center and will triple the roughly 40 staff answering phones to help more people with these issues. 

“There will certainly be 120 people in addition to the claims processors that we have right now, which is 60 to 80,” he explained.

Those processors often have had to deal with claims requiring further verification - things like social security benefits, veterans’ benefits, and out of state wages that can impact the amount of an unemployment check.

Six weeks ago there were 80,000 claims requiring more research. 

“As of a little over two weeks ago there were 18,000 people waiting on that information.  Now that’s down to about 7,000," Westby said on June 26.

The agency also said the new staff will reduce the time it takes to get through a typical claim.  At one point in the pandemic it took it six weeks.  Now it’s down to two. 

When asked if he thought it was possible to get processing time down even further than two weeks, Westby said they hope to do so.

“The goal is to get it down to where it historically had been before the pandemic, which was three days.”

That might help our state’s standing versus other states.  U.S. Department of Labor data indicates Connecticut has been in the middle of the pack when it comes to timely unemployment claims.  The only caveat: the funding for the phone center came from the federal government. The DOL said that funding will run out by year's end.

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