Skyrocketing unemployment makes filing for benefits a major frustration

(Cropped Photo: MGN Photo - Julie Chasen / MGN)(License Link)
(Cropped Photo: MGN Photo - Julie Chasen / MGN)(License Link)(KWQC)
Published: Apr. 2, 2020 at 6:29 PM CDT
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Whether you're in Missouri or Arkansas, filing for unemployment online or by phone, you just can't get through.

"Every time I call they say, 'We're unable to take your call Please call back at a later time,'" said Sanjay Johnson, an unemployed Arkansan. "And they hang up."

" I know it sounds very basic but really the best advice would be to stay patient and diligent and keep trying," said Sally Payne, the City of Springfield Interim Director of Workforce Development.

Her advice is probably not what frustrated, worried and angry newly unemployed people want to hear right now but the fact is the system is overwhelmed.

Three weeks ago claims in Missouri were at 4,300. By the end of March they were averaging over 100,000 a week.

Lines outside a Arkansas job center in Fayetteville resembled photos from the Great Depression except people were social distancing several feet apart.

But believe it or not, this situation is predicted to be worse than that dark moment in our nation's history.

"The Federal Reserve out of St. Louis reported the unemployment rate could rise to 32 percent," Payne pointed out. "Comparing that to the Great Depression the unemployment rate at that time was 24.9 percent."

In Missouri unemployment offices are getting over 100,000 calls a day and both governors say they've brought in more people to help.

"Look, there's just thousands-upon-thousands of people trying to reach that office every day and we're doing everything we can to process those claims," said Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

"I know that they've brought in 20 or 30 new staff people and I know they've invested in new IT systems," Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said on Tuesday.

"I know we live in a society of being able to access new information and things rather quickly," Payne added. "But we're in a very different time now."

You're best bet though is to still try on-line and the time of day might make a big difference.

"Maybe try in the off-peak hours, late at night, in the evening or early in the morning when there aren't so many people trying to access that system," Payne suggested.

And one other sobering thought.

If unemployment continues to skyrocket, don't expect things to get back to normal quickly once the health threat itself passes.

"If the Federal Reserve is right on the 32 percent unemployment rate that's going to be very concerning and that will take a longer recovery than I think anyone could expect," Payne said. "When you consider businesses that are shut-down currently, are they going to revenue when they open back up, if they open back up, to hire the labor force they had when they shut down?" So if you were laid off the concerning thing would be will you be able to go back to your employer because they may not have the budget to do that. There's so many unknowns. I think it will be a slow crawl and we'll have months and months of recovery."

Payne also pointed out that once you do get your claim filed successfully, there will probably be a two-to-three week delay in accessing those unemployment funds.