Why can’t Vermonters leave voicemails with the Dept. of Labor about unemployment benefits?

CLOSE

Old-fashioned phone conversations remain the best way for state workers to untangle Vermonters’ unemployment benefit snafus during the coronavirus pandemic — but don’t count on leaving a voicemail with the Department of Labor anytime soon.

Pending upgrades to service, overloaded switchboards and long wait-times are the new, dismal, normal for unemployment insurance (UI) claims, legislators discovered Tuesday.

Online applications for benefits have proven difficult to file for many Vermonters, Michael Harrington, Vermont’s interim commissioner of the department, told members of the Joint Rules Committee in a video conference.

Related coverage: Gov. Scott plans to give $1,200 for unemployment claims not cleared by end of week

A lot of the subsequent customer service has been sub-par, legislators told the commissioner.

Hundreds of people out of work have been calling his staffers for clarify the status of a claim, Harrington acknowledged; but directing them to leave a phone message would actually slow down the already-slow process.

Harrington said he has done the numbers. “It’s actually more efficient for us to have more people on the lines handling the volume of calls as opposed to reducing the number of people on the lines to now follow up on voicemail messages.”

Vermont’s unemployment-benefits system was created around face-to-face interviews as a way to minimize fraud, Harrington added.

Online and over the phone, the system was designed to handle a much slower and smaller flow of applications he said.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

All coverage of the coronavirus is being provided for free to our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Free Press.

Read or Share this story: https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2020/04/29/unemployment-vermont-vexed-phone-service-department-labor-coronavirus/3046579001/