Louisiana unemployment woes: ‘We cannot take your call at this time’

Louisiana

(WAFB) – A Gonzales, Louisiana man says he recently made one of the toughest decisions of his life. He says he sent his two kids to temporarily live with a relative because without unemployment benefits, he can no longer feed them.

“I just can’t afford to keep them basically. I can’t get them what they need,” he said Tuesday, April 14.

The man, who we are calling Tom Moore to protect his privacy, says his troubles began in March when he totaled his car in a wreck.

Three days later, he says he was laid off from his job at a plant due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. After being laid off, Moore found some comfort in knowing he was approved for unemployment benefits to keep his family afloat.

However, two weeks and hundreds of busy signals later, he says he’s still waiting for the funds to appear in his bank account.

And he’s not alone. Many other hopeful applicants are telling the same story. One woman who posted on social media about the issue does not think the state is doing enough to help those in need of unemployment benefits.

“Being overwhelmed is not an excuse anymore,” she wrote.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC), the state agency that handles unemployment claims, admits its system is overloaded.

LWC says it has added 300 additional workers to handle the unprecedented number of claims. There’s no question the agency has already helped thousands of Louisianians successfully obtain their benefits. Over the past three weeks, LWC reports paying out more than $202 million in state and federal unemployment insurance.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the agency averaged about 4,000 calls in a week. That number soared to more than 28,000 calls for the week of April 6 alone, the agency said. But that’s little comfort to those whom have fallen through the cracks.

During the first week of April, WAFB tried to assist a woman who was having issues getting through to LWC by phone. We encountered several problems during multiple phone calls. For example, when a nine-digit social security number was entered into the automated answering system, the system only recognized a portion of those numbers. That same problem was still happening the week of April 13.

“The LWC is aware of some issues with our phone systems and are working with our vendors to resolve them,” the agency said Tuesday. “Now that we’ve just started sending federal benefits to tens of thousands of claimants in a matter of a day or two, recent enhancements to our system are overloaded. We are making adjustments to better serve the public, and we ask them to please continue to be patient during this time.”

Other callers report they finally got through to LWC by phone and completed the automated screening questions only to then be told their call cannot be taken.

“I’m getting that over and over and over again,” one man wrote on social media. “What can I do?”

Moore says he’s had the same problems, regardless of the time of day, when he calls try to call to ask why the funds are still not in his account.

“I’ve been trying to call for the past two weeks,” Moore said. “The first time, I was on hold for three hours and the line just got disconnected.”

During a news conference about coronavirus Tuesday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards also asked for patience with the unemployment process.

The governor says some Louisiana residents who might have been denied state benefits might actually be eligible for federal benefits. He encouraged those residents to check with LWC to see if their status has changed.

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