Jobless aid claims not getting in |

Jobless aid claims not getting in

A deluge of unemployed workers has swamped state Employment Development Department claim centers, causing some frustrated Nevada County applicants to flock to a job center in Nevada City in hopes of reaching a person instead of a busy signal.

A large number of people showed up last week up at the one-stop career center at 117 New Mohawk Road, said Tom Medley, a program manager for the WorkForce Connection center.

They showed up there – and continue to show up – even though the center does not have an unemployment office.

It has an EDD office which handles job placements, but not unemployment benefits.

To handle unemployment claims, the state EDD installed call-in claim centers in the mid-1990s. Instead of showing up at unemployment offices, people filing claims are routed to one of six phone centers in California where applicants could request their benefits be started – until last week, when the number of filers overtaxed the system.

People said they tried to call EDD unemployment offices, but could not get through, said Medley.

“People would show up, (say) ‘I can’t get ahold of the unemployment insurance number, (ask) What can I do?'” said Medley.

To help them, claim forms were downloaded from the Internet and faxed from the center to unemployment offices, said Medley.

Unemployed county residents filing first-time claims found themselves competing with others caught in a statewide economic downturn – not for a job, but for an answer from a claims call center.

“I equate it to rush-hour traffic, but all at one time,” said Michael Henriques, Northern Sierra field manager for EDD.

Henriques said the problem was an anomaly caused by the economic slowdown and people holding off until last week to file for increased benefits. Henriques noted that unemployment filers can ask to have their claims back dated if they had problems getting through.

As of Tuesday, 75 percent of the callers were getting through to the call cue, said Henriques.

State officials believe some unemployed workers held off filing until after Jan. 6 to get more benefits.

Starting then, first-time applicants get up to $330 a week – $100 more than last year – thanks to legislation passed by the state Legislature after Sept. 11.

Phone centers have had to handle more calls from the combination of delayed filers and a slower statewide economy, which includes layoffs in Nevada and Placer counties.

On Jan. 7, 15,000 people filed new claims, said EDD spokeswoman Suzanne Schroeder. That compares with 10,000 to 12,000 new claims filed on an average day last year.

Beyond the number of callers, technical problems plagued the phone routing system last week. Half of the call centers went down for three hours on Jan. 7, and five went down for an undisclosed amount of time the next day, said Schroeder.

She said the phone centers had problems in December. EDD contacted its vendor immediately to fix them, she said.

The busy signals occurred despite the hiring of 300 people by EDD last year to staff the phone centers. In response to last week’s problems, EDD set up a fax system to receive claims, said Schroeder.

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