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State unemployment benefits phone lines ‘overwhelmed and overloaded’

Coronavirus

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IDAHO FALLS — Since Gov. Brad Little issued the statewide stay-home order, the Idaho Department of Labor has been inundated with new applications for unemployment claims and is struggling to keep up.

It’s a big enough problem that some eastern Idahoans say they have not been able to apply, despite qualifying.

“I’ve been out of work now for over a month,” said Connor Stevenson, of Idaho Falls. “It’s been terrible. I’ve been trying to get in contact (with the Department of Labor) since March 20 or 23.”

Stevenson worked for a car dealership, but was let go due to economic hardship caused by the novel coronavirus.

He says he hasn’t been able to get through to apply over the phone or online, and all of his emails have gone unanswered.

“Our phone system has been overwhelmed and overloaded,” Department of Labor spokeswoman Georgia Smith said. “And we’re not alone. Other states’ systems are crashing. Their phone systems are just as overloaded and just as overwhelmed as ours.”

However, Idaho Department of Labor unemployment insurance technical services specialist Leah Reeder said claims are being filed successfully online.

“We’ve been getting a lot of claims. Everything’s been going through successfully. We haven’t had any program crashes or anything like that,” Reeder said.

She said those unable or uncomfortable filing online, should try calling the Department of Labor.

“We can put them on a list and give them a call back the very next day and take their claim for them over the phone,” Reeder said.

EastIdahoNews.com tried to call the phone number multiple times. Each time, a voice message said the line was busy and to try again later. That number is (208) 332-8942.

But some people have been able to get through on the phone — eventually.

“It took me three days of calling, starting at 7:55 in the morning and calling all day over and over to finally even get anything but a busy tone on the unemployment line,” Ammon resident Jessica Mondy said.

Reeder said the department is encouraging people to file claims on its website, labor.idaho.gov.

EastIdahoNews.com was able to create a profile without any problems. We were also able to access the webpage for filing claims, though we did not file.

“It’s just really important for people to know that they don’t have to call. They can file online,” Smith said. “If they have access to a computer, they can file online, and they don’t need to call.”

Despite assurances that things are working online, Mondy said she filed online three weeks ago and was approved, but has not received any payments.

“I have been following everything and doing my certifications, and three weeks have all not been paid out. They all say ‘pending issue stopping payment,'” Mondy said.

Reeder said some people were having difficulty logging their weekly report on the website last Sunday, April 4.

“We continued to monitor the traffic, and it looked like it was just people having difficulty because of the sheer volume. If folks tried again in maybe five or 10 minutes, they were able to get through,” Reeder said.

Smith acknowledged that some are having difficulties, and there are some issues with the website.

“We’re working the best we can, as fast as we can to try and serve Idahoans who really do need the benefits,” Smith said.

Those who are struggling and need immediate help can use other services while waiting for unemployment benefits, Smith said.

“There’s a bunch of resources on the Idaho COVID-19 website that people can get access to — food distribution centers, food banks, all kinds of things,” Smith said. “There are resources out there to tide people over.”

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