IDAHO — Since our report about the department’s insufficient staff size last week, the Idaho Department of Labor (IDOL) added 30 new phone lines through the call center, staffed with trained workers who have access to view — and explain — individual claim details to claimants.
But thousands of unemployed Idahoans across the Gem State continue to wait for unemployment benefits. In our continuing coverage, we're taking a look at the effectiveness of IDOL's recent efforts to keep up with skyrocketing demand from claimants.
By signing a contract with Maximus, a call center for government agencies in Boise, labor reps said they’re working to spare you from the hours-long wait times Idahoans have been dealing with lately. The new number to call is (833) 410-1009, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We are pleased to partner with a call center to assist [in helping] answer claimant calls," said IDOL spokesperson Leah Reeder, in an email to KIVI. "Our goal is for claimants to reach an agent more easily."
But is that the case so far?
Not yet, according to some Idahoans we spoke to.
Cheri Shepard, a claimant from Idaho, said she tried calling the number 33 times on Monday, but couldn't get through. She said she tried again on Tuesday to no avail, then tried again Wednesday, and…
“At 8 o’clock straight-up, I hit it again, and it said I got right through, and I said, 'Woohoo this is exciting!'" said Shepard. "And then it said, but, the wait time was 6 hours and 9 minutes... it was a recording.”
Plus, another Idaho claimant on Facebook tells us she had problems too.
She said after an hour, she was able to get in touch with someone at the call center, but that they transferred her to a specialist where she waited four more hours before it automatically hung up on her.
The department is only in its third day with the call center, however, and Reeder says they are still fine-tuning.
"We are still working out the kinks, but we are pleased with the progress," writes Reeder in an email.
But can the new employees help adjudicate issues stopping payment?
"If the issue was due to a claimant error and a mistake on the application, they are able to correct it for them. If the issue needs additional information to determine if the claimant is still eligible, then they will need to speak with an Adjudicator or Claim Specialist," replied Reeder.
She said the department continues to hire adjudicators that can reach out to claimants, but didn’t say how many.
According to IDOL, laid-off Idaho workers have filed 136,901 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the nine weeks of the COVID-19 state of emergency -- 2.3 times the total number of initial claims filed in all of 2019.
As of May 16, total benefit payments attributed to COVID-19 layoffs reached $240 million, writes IDOL.
In the meantime, for many, the wait continues -- but we will continue to press for answers for you.