RALEIGH — With North Carolina’s unemployment claims reaching near a million individuals last week, those filing claims still say payments are slow to show up or haven’t arrived at all.
Stories of the website crashing and technical issues have plagued the unemployment filing process, often forcing filers to try multiple times over the course of several days to file a claim.
The family of a young man named Anthony, who lives in Wake County, tells North State Journal that he finally got his claim filed on March 31, but he had to do it at 5 a.m. to get his claim to go through. Weeks later, he had received no follow-up and no benefit payment. The repeated calls to the Employment Security office resulted in reaching only a recording to call back later due to “heavy call volume.”
Frustrated, Anthony and his family turned to lawmakers for help by contacting the office of Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) on April 23. He credits Berger’s constituent and district liaison Rebekah LaHay with sorting out the mess and with his claim being paid out the very next day, on April 24.
Anthony and his family say he was lucky to have family support, and that he didn’t have to worry about food and shelter.
“While we are grateful he is finally receiving his benefits, we should not have had to engage Berger’s office to get him paid,” said Anthony’s mother. “What about others who don’t have family to assist them?”
Before the coronavirus outbreak put a strain on the system, North Carolina was already one of the worst states for issuing unemployment payments in a timely fashion, according to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics on payments.
“For the first quarter of 2020, North Carolina paid 67.2% of first payments in a timely manner. The national average for the same period was 86.5%,” reporter Kari Travis recently wrote for Carolina Journal.
At a press conference last Thursday, Cooper responded to criticism about the slow unemployment payouts.
“I have ordered the Employment Security Commission to increase the number of people who are handling telephone calls and increase the capability online to take claims,” said Cooper.
Cooper had already used an executive order earlier in April to waive several of North Carolina’s unemployment rules to provide swifter assistance to filers.
DES had announced earlier in the month that they would be hiring over 1,600 people to speed up the processing of claims and payment issuance. Around that same time, the agency said that money from federal assistance programs related to unemployment claims made due to COVID-19 was supposed to start going out the week of April 13.
As of May 4, North Carolina Department of Employment Security published statistics showing that just under 95% of the 1,048,861 claims filed in the state were completed online during a time span of March 15 to May 3. Of the claims filed, 847,748 are COVID-19 related.
Independent contractors being granted the ability to file led to a spike of 54,495 claim filings on April 24. Other notable spikes include 32,613 on April 25 and 28,019 on April 30.
The U.S. added another 3.8 million unemployment claims during the week of April 19-25, putting jobless figures during the coronavirus outbreak at 30 million. The largest spike in filings so far was 6.8 million near the end of March.