(Updated) After dismissing rumors that she would step aside to anoint Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele as the state’s next governor in the run up to the 2010 election, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell talked Friday about the improvements the state has made to the unemployment filing system.
“It is a very difficult and frustrating time for anybody who is filing for unemployment,” Rell said. “We have been working on the issues for some time.”
She said the Labor Department and the Information Technology Department were in her office Friday working on the issue. But there are no simple fixes. With 9,000 first time filers, in addition to the 155,000 individuals filing on a continuing basis the system is “simply overextending and overworking the load,” Rell said.
She said several weeks ago the state ordered and installed a new server for the Internet filing system and is looking to double the number of phone lines it has. She said they are also looking at dividing the phone lines into one for first time callers and another for those filing their claims on a continuing basis.
She said one of the things that the federal government could do to help would be to cut down on the requirements for those already eligible for unemployment so they don’t have to call back every week.
Last week, state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, wrote a letter to Rell expressing his frustration at the lack of progress the state was making in upgrading the system. When Rell’s office decided the Labor Department’s response was sufficient and decided not to comment, Holder-Winfield started a Facebook group titled: “No, Governor Rell DOL’s Response is Not Sufficient.” About 225 people had joined the group as of noon on Friday and many shared Holder-Winfield’s frustration.
One woman named Jennifer posted a comment Jan. 3 saying, “Usually I can’t get through online, or on the phone, until tuesday, sometimes wednesday! even after trying both ways for HOURS! It shouldn’t be this hard!”
Another man named Jonathan posted a comment Jan. 4 saying, “It’s monday so who am I fooling, but just dialed the Unemployment number for the 15th time an got a busy signal for the 15th time. 5 weeks without a check because the system will not allow me to report some part time earnings without talking to a live person.”
On Friday, Holder-Winfield said he was “encouraged” by Rell’s response to the issue. He said he has a meeting with Rell’s office next week to discuss the matter, but noted that progress on the issue seems to have been made.
On Saturday Rell’s office sent out this press release saying she will add resources to the Department of Labor to help that agency cope with the extraordinary volume of new and continuing unemployment claims. Improvements to the unemployment system include the temporary return of about 30 experienced call center workers who recently retired and approval for overtime for 65 other call center specialists. The additional staff time will permit the call center to add a full new day of service, opening Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The call center will also be open on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, Jan. 18.
“State offices would ordinarily be closed for the holiday honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King,” Rell said. “However, we must provide as much support as possible to people looking for work – and that includes keeping the UI call center open.”