We've taken NBC10 Boston viewers' complaints to the top: Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Rosalin Acosta. Watch her extended remarks from our interview below.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we have heard from dozens of viewers who asked for our help getting their unemployment benefits.
They have described payment delays, problems with the state call center and frustrations trying to get answers about their claims.
Hugh Wyman of Medford is an electrical engineer and father of four who was furloughed over the summer before losing his job in October. He finally received his unemployment benefits the last week of January.
“This level of delay, it seems extreme,” said Wyman. “And I can only worry about other people who are in dire straits or really do need this money and that aren’t getting it.”
Wyman said he called the state to get help numerous times.
“Most of the time, at the end of navigating the call center automated menus, they would just hang up on me at the end,” Wyman said. “I’ve talked to a person who said yes, we have all of your information, but you still need to keep waiting.”
We took his experience to the head of the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, Secretary Rosalin Acosta of the State Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
“The last thing we want to do is have people wait for money,” said Acosta. “Our job is to get people paid.”
Acosta said that Department of Unemployment Assistance has paid out a million and a half claims during the pandemic. But due to thousands of fraudulent claims being filed, the agency has had to perform enhanced identity verification measures, which has caused delays.
“For whatever reason, your application is flagged,” Acosta said. “We ask you for your documentation, what we find a lot of times is people either don’t submit it correctly, so we ask for the front and back of your license. Sometimes we get the front, we don’t get the back. All of that creates a backlog.”
We asked her how bad the backlog is.
“We have folks right now that have been waiting for about 30 days, 45 days,” Acosta said. “That, to me, is substantial. I want people to be paid quickly.”
The Department of Unemployment Assistance grew from 50 to 2,000 employees during the pandemic, Acosta said. Some are working seven days a week, and the agency has added new technology and increased employee training.
We asked about complaints we have received from some viewers who said call center customer service representatives couldn’t tell them when they could expect to receive their unemployment benefits.
“They shouldn’t get those kinds of answers,” Acosta said. “Those are not acceptable answers. Our folks are trained and they should not be hearing, ‘I don’t know.’”
Here are some tips to avoid delays when you’re filing for unemployment.
- Triple check your application information, like your social security number and address.
- Make sure you have your employer's name correct. That’s the name that appears on your paycheck.
- If you’re asked to provide additional information, respond quickly. And when it comes to navigating the Department of Unemployment Assistance call center, avoid busy times.
“Don’t call on Mondays please,” Acosta said. “Monday mornings are really the worst time, that’s where we see the biggest problem. Or Tuesday morning after a long weekend.
“If you’re calling us at a time where there are too many folks, the cue will only accept so many people before it asks you to call us back,” she added.