OLYMPIA –Washington’s unemployment-claims phone line is now open one hour earlier each day to receive benefit applications or questions from unemployed workers.
Intake agents are now available 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, to assist unemployed workers with their claims for benefits.
“Our call centers are absolutely slammed right now,” said Lee. “We want people to get the benefits they’ve earned as quickly as possible, and expanding our call hours will help.”
Call volumes are increasing due to a recent federal extension of benefits, continuing high unemployment and the typical winter peak. The call centers are busiest in the winter months, when industries such as construction and agriculture are in their off-season.
To handle the increased workload, Employment Security has nearly tripled the number of intake agents since the recession began.
Besides opening the phone line for more hours, employees are working evenings and weekends – when the phone line isn’t live – to process applications and respond to questions.
In addition to the growing call-center workload, Employment Security’s Web-based claims system and automated phone line also have been overwhelmed at times as more than 225,000 people attempt to file their weekly claims beginning at midnight every Sunday. Lee said that additional Web capacity is being tested and should be added to the system in the next couple of weeks.
“We’re in far better shape than we were last fall and winter, when the recession took off so unexpectedly,” Lee said. “People should experience a lot fewer busy signals and high-volume messages this year, and call-wait times should be improved.”
Claimants can cut down on their wait times by doing the following:
§ Apply for benefits and submit weekly claims online. This service is available 24 hours a day at www.esd.wa.gov. (Sunday claims volumes sometimes overwhelm the Web-based system, but there’s usually no problem the rest of the week.)
§ If you call the call center, don’t hang up. In November, wait times averaged about 13 minutes.
§ Call later in the week. For new applications, Thursday and Friday mornings are the least busy times in the call centers. The best time to file weekly claims via the automated phone system is Tuesday through Thursday after 5 p.m.
§ Be ready. Have information available regarding your previous employers for the past two years: business name, mailing address and employment dates.
Unemployment-insurance call centers in Washington are now open an hour earlier on weekdays to deal with the increasing number of calls.
Agents are now available to take calls at 7 a.m.
The recent federal extension of benefits, persistent high unemployment and the typical winter peak are driving up the call volumes, according to the state Employment Security Department.
Unemployed workers can help ease the situation by calling during less busy times on Thursday and Friday mornings, or by applying online at www.esd.wa.gov.