After Lisa Benincasa lost her job as an accountant in mid-March when her company fired all of its employees due to the economic impact of the corona virus, she applied for unemployment immediately. Almost a month after the benefits were approved, the resident and mother of three in Wilmington, North Carolina are still waiting for a check.
Even though she has applied for unemployment every Friday for the past three weeks, as the state requires, she has not yet received a cent. “It’s terrible and sad because I know there are so many people in the same situation,” said Benincasa.
It couldn’t be more correct. WithTheir jobs in the past month and unemployment claims, frustrations are overflowing. As in Benincasa, many people are waiting for benefits to be claimed or, worse, having difficulty applying at all, as government benefits systems are overwhelmed by others who claim them.
In states like Florida, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, many residents state that they are unable to contact their job center over the phone or over the Internet. The communication disruption is spectacularly bad, and Americans desperately need extended unemployment benefits to pay bills and put food on the table.
“You can’t call them,” said Benincasa, 40, of trying to get her state to divide up the work. “I think they turned off their phones. You can call at any time of the day and it just says that the call volume is too high. Try again later.”
Zach Job, a bartender in Queens, New York, was fired after his employer closed and said he had not applied for benefits because he received a busy signal every time he called the state’s unemployment border. Job and his roommate, fitness coach Chad Ryan Means, said they couldn’t afford the rent for the next month.
“I’m just believing,” said Means. “I expect the system to say what it says and it will work in my favor.”
“A waiting game”
State unemployment officials said they understand residents’ frustrations and are working to resolve claims as quickly as possible. In a bitterly ironic twist, they even hire additional staff to deal with the flood of unemployment claims from the growing American unemployed army.
These enormous numbers prove that more than many countries can handle it. For comparison, the nearly 17 million workers who applied for unemployment within a few weeks exceed the population of Alabama, Colorado and Minnesota – taken together.
Hundreds of thousands of Florida residents have registered unemployment in the past few weeks and have crashed the application website. Claims grew so rapidly that the state made paper applications, and people were reported to be queuing outside the public libraries to distribute the forms.
Florida has since launched a new website and software for reporting unemployment, but one expert said this only caused further confusion.
“Now the state is instructing people to use this new software to file the claims, but it appears that both software programs are doing the same thing. It is therefore unclear whether anyone should use one or the other,” said Daniel Rowinsky, Greater Miami Legal Services unemployment lawyer.
In North Carolina, officials said they hired 50 more specialists to process around 450,000 applications since March 16. Lockhart Taylor, deputy secretary of the state employment security department, said the agency plans to hire more people.
“The employment security department believes that people who have lost their jobs cannot get help early enough,” Taylor said in a statement last week.
Since March 15, more than 1.2 million people in Pennsylvania have applied for unemployment. While some residents have already started receiving benefits, the system is still having problems, said Julia Simon-Mishel, an unemployment lawyer at Philadelphia Legal Assistance. This includes documents that are written in English only and do not prevent non-English speakers from seeking help. The state was also slow to build a mobile version of its application website.
Hope Buskirk worked at a rest area in New Stanton, Pennsylvania for four months before her company released its employees on March 14. Buskirk, 24, said she applied for unemployment a few days earlier because she expected her job to reduce working hours.
Pennsylvania approved Buskirk’s request and received an email from the state on March 24, instructing her to wait to use a PIN to submit her weekly claim. She is still waiting for the pen.
“It’s basically a waiting game for anyone who has submitted,” said Buskirk. “I got there relatively early and I’m still waiting. So what will happen to people who have worked in the last week of March?”
—CBS News’ Durrell Dawson contributed to this report.