Busy Signal

Why Washington's Unemployment- Benefits Hotline Is Such a Mess


We at the state Employment Security Department know that these are difficult times for laid-off workers, and we share their frustration about reaching our call centers.

I want to provide some additional information that was not covered in the Stranger article. Throughout 2007 and most of 2008, Washington enjoyed historically low unemployment. Because of federal funding formulas tied to workload, we had to reduce our staff. Fiscally, that made a lot of sense, but it put us at a disadvantage when the economy fell apart last September.

It takes 2-3 months to recruit, interview and hire new employees. In addition, unemployment insurance is complicated, so all new intake agents must go through six weeks of classroom training before we can put them on the phones to help clients. And even then, they need months of close mentoring to ensure they are making accurate decisions.

The training is grueling, and not everyone makes it through to the end. So in reality, we have been adding staff as fast as we can, and we will continue to do so until we are able to manage the workload with the timeliness and quality that we expect. In fact, about two dozen newly trained agents will join our call centers next week, and then two new training classes will begin shortly after that.

There also are things that individuals can do to prevent delays.

The most important thing is to provide complete and accurate employment information in your application. This includes employer names and addresses for the past two years, your work dates and why you lost your job. If you provide incomplete or inaccurate information, it will result in a lot of frustrating phone tag; and worse yet, it will delay your benefits – often by several weeks.

If you can’t apply via the Web (www.esd.wa.gov) and must call by phone, don’t hang up once you’re in the queue because it puts you at the back of the line. Most people are getting through in a half-hour or less – which isn’t ideal, but it gives you a sense of what to expect.

Back in the days when everyone had to apply for benefits in person, it wasn’t unusual to wait in line for two hours or more – outside and in the rain. Our current system isn’t perfect, but it’s a big improvement on the past, and we will keep working to make it better. Meanwhile, we appreciate your patience.
Thanks for reporting, Eli!

I finally got through after 6 weeks! Filing a claim online is easy, but if something ever goes wrong and you simply want an explanation you're SOL for a looooooong time.
I'd rather wait two hours in line than try for days on end to get through to a live op when I'm prevented from filing online.
Was I the only person *not* surprised the unemployment office is still understaffed after six months? Where would they get the money to hire more people? They're not the type of business where more customers means more revenue.
My pop was one of the last layoffs from the Lazy B back in the 70s. The old policies sent him down regularly to the unemployment office used to be by 6th & Denny. He told me he'd go in the morning to wait in a long shuffling line to get to the window and submit his proof of job searches to one staffer, then sit in the ashtray-filled waiting room until his number got called to go wait in a different shuffling line to get a check from another staffer.

Some people brought sack lunches. He said the silence in that huge place was striking. So many people there, making so little noise. After one of his trips he wrote a little poem about sitting around in the crowded waiting room on a rainy day smoking one Vantage after another. A couple lines went something like, "the other men stare, respectful of the violence I hold so limply in my hand."

So Mark Varadian is right about it used to be worse, but that don't mean it's not time to ramp up the call centers NOW. The curve won't be getting any shallower for awhile.
On Sunday I tried to file my claim online and got this message from the website: "We are experiencing a high volume of usage at this time, please try again later."

Note to Employment Security: bandwidth does not require personnel, or ramp-up.
I've been out of work since November. The one time I had a question about my claim, after being unable to get through by phone, I emailed my question via the web site. I had an answer 24 hours later.

I also got the "busy" signal when trying to file the weekly claim online on a Sunday. However, I've found that I can file on Monday morning with less of that and still have my money show up in my checking account by Tuesday or Wednesday. (Do opt for direct deposit!)
wanna worse situation try having work hours in more than one state. been trying to get a check for 3 months. i guess this is what i get for being willing to travel to get work. things are so bad try to get a job at burger king right now, theres 200 apps ahead of you. these are the times where wages drop, and unions fail. obama promised you change, you voted for him, enjoy! Canada anyone?
Maybe the unemployment call center should just re-route incoming calls to other unemployed people that are doing their claims correctly. It's not like we have anything better to do, we're effing unemployed. Or instead of hold music for 20 minutes, they should patch people through to the other people that are waiting and call it "the unemployment on-hold support group." I bet the call-center staff (always good-humored) jokes around about this idea by the water cooler on breaks.
This might come off as heartless, but I have little to no sympathy for state employees or the agencies that they inhabit. In the past ten years, I have worked as a temp for several different state agencies. Some of my positions were for only a few months and some lasted years. In all but one of the five agencies where I worked, I observed the grossest laziness that I have ever seen in my life! For instance, at one agency, my manager sent me an email full of links to gaming Web sites. They didn't have anything for me to do and he didn't want me to "get bored." My position was deliberately created to make it look like the agency was busier than it actually was! All I did were two small photocopying jobs in the first month. During that same time, there was no activity in the private office across the hall from me, and so I assumed that it was empty or being used for storage. I eventually found out that it was, in fact, someone's office, but they had decided not to show up for work for God knows how long. This person was a favorite of one of the managers (they'd both been working there for 20 years or so) and so that person never used any of their sick leave or vacation time while they were away. Instead, we all paid for her to sit on the couch at home and eat junk food. I later discovered first hand that when this women eventually retired, she didn't even go on "retirement" pay. Instead, she stayed on the books "working" full time! Therefore, she continued to make approximately 65k a year, doing nothing and getting fantastic medical insurance! This is just one example of many examples. I also attended many management "meetings" where NOTHING was accomplished and all that the managers did was sit around eating ribs and gourmet pizzas that "the state" (aka you and me) paid for. I also saw people order unnecessary office supplies like $100+ leather-bound day planners and spend their work hours cruising Adult Friend Finder for people to hook up with after work! When people made egregious mistakes (such as threatening an employee with a firearm or persistently sexually harassing coworkers), they were barely reprimanded and were never fired. Instead, they were simply moved to another state agency. Once again, I know that this stuff sounds outrageous, but it really did happen. (Even as I write this, I'm thinking that no one is going to believe me!) I'm sure that these problems still persist today. I mean, why wouldn't they? There is no accountability and lawmakers (who also work for the state) don't really want that to change. Meanwhile, unemployed people like you and me wait on hold for hours at a time to get help or hold out for 8 weeks for a determination on our benefits. I wish that I could spend that time ignorantly believing that these employees are doing the best that they can. Odds are, from my experiences at five different state agencies, they're not. And they won't....
I have been waiting for unemployment benefits for 6 weeks and I called today and only had to wait 20 minutes to speak with someone. However, they sent me a questionnaire right off the bat questioning why I was in school (A vocational school I might add, not a full time UW type thing that most peoples parents pay for.) I have waited 6 weeks for unemployment benefits because they said they needed to make a decision and an adjudicator had piles of these "questionnaires" to make decisions about and that it wouldn't be fair for me to speak with them myself and push mine through.... Really!? I only am trying to figure out what I can do to avoid becoming homeless! I explained to the awful woman I spoke to and asked her "Is there anything I can do? I am jobless, overdrawn $700.00 from paying my bills last month, I am about to lose my apartment because I can't have rent by the fifth and I am about to drop out of school..." She replied "continue to file your claim." Even better when I tried to ask this SAME QUESTION to someone else 2 weeks ago they said that I could fax them a copy of my eviction notice, if I did get evicted and that they could attempt to push it through as some sort of hardship thing? Oh fucking brilliant! The claim I will get once I am living in a homeless shelter and have lost my chance at an education and everything else I own?" I hate Washington State Unemployment for doing this to me. They have had ample amount of time to make a decision. 6 fucking weeks to be exact. I am destitute and I have no where to go and nothing to do except watch my apartment disappear, screw my room mate over by making him move back to Idaho with his parents, and watching as all my class mates finish and graduate while I interview for some corporate nazi fuck fast food company for the rest of my life. I wish I could break President Bush's legs right now...
If you have ever had a chance to visit Workforce (what a waste of state funds, by the way!) or being on the line with UI Office - you will quickly realize that the caliber of people working there is outrageous! They don't care!

This is a clear example how State's reliance on our beloved Federal Government is hurting its own people. Whenever State is involved in running social welfare it is imminent to become a disaster (DSHS is another clear example of failed State-run social works).

I have been trying to get through to phone center (the claims office) for TWO WEEKS! The phone line simply DISCONNECTS you without leaving any option to leave a message for a call back.

I received a letter a few months back stating that my benefits are such and such. Today I learned that it was caught in HALF via automated line. What happened? I don't think I can even remotely get an answer. The only advice I received was to FIGHT/Appeal. Good luck with that one! I have gone through appeals in the past with this office - it's time- and energy-consuming with no guarantee for JUSTICE.

My question is this - WHY do we need to FIGHT for our RIGHTS? These are not benefits, folks. These are our birth-RIGHTS.

Yeah, keep feeding those banksters and keep being robbed during a day light! And keep FIGHTING for your pennies... What a joke!
i guess im a little confused.

we have the 4th largest ES fund @ 4b, but can't figure out how to staff or outsource a telecenter. not acceptable.

we continue to design a interactive system that purposefully abandons callers without addressing their needs for information or contact.

the online options work as long as the claim is standard / vanilla. as soon as a claim is presented that falls into the edge cases, it is immediately lost in the system because the website does not allow e-mail contact anymore, and there are no alternate methods to contact ESD with questions or concerns (even updates!).

how is that responsible legislation, business management, or customer service? if the folks running ESD were working in the private sector, you would be joining folks on the other side in the unemployment fiasco pretty quickly.

you can't say that you are administering benefits and helping people if your system, tools and processes are setup to reject without recourse.

i forgot to file my claim because the ESD changed the rules and now ends the week on Friday instead of Saturday as it used to. it is literally impossible for me to re-open my claim or to file for weekly benefits because of that one change.