RI Dept. of Labor and Training seeing spike in unemployment claims

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Dept. of Labor and Training (DLT) is facing a backlog of unemployment insurance claims, Call 12 for Action has learned.

Dave Manning has been a landscaper for decades.

“I’m 75 years old and I love working outside,” he told Call 12 for Action.

When winter settled in, Manning was laid off, so he filed a claim for unemployment insurance.

“I’m just trying to get my payments,” he said. “It’s been six weeks now. Cash flow is down, you know what I’m saying?”

Manning says he has called the DLT repeatedly, but never reaches anyone for help.

“It’s just frustrating, you know?” Manning said. “Every year there’s a glitch, but this seems to be the worst.”

In an email to Call 12 for Action, John Ford of Warwick also expressed concern about his unemployment insurance claim.

“I have been unable to reach a ‘person’ on the phone,” Ford wrote. “Every time I call, the automated system tells me I need to speak to a representative. I have been trying many times a day for almost two weeks.”

According to data obtained by Call 12 for Action, call wait times spiked to about 30 minutes last week. At the same time last year, the call wait time was about 20 minutes.

Mike Healey, a spokesperson for the R.I. Dept. of Labor and Training said the agency is fielding about 500 calls into its call center daily, in addition to 300 to 400 online claims.

“The wintertime claim surge is happening,” Healey said. “You have seasonal workers like construction workers and landscapers. Then you have retail workers being let go after the Christmastime holidays. You have school vacations.”

“This year we kind of got a bit of a double whammy because the very first work week of the new year we had New Year’s Day, which was a holiday, then we had a snow day on Thursday, Jan. 4, then even on the fifth we had half staff, so there’s a choke point there,” he added.

Healey said there are 45 call center representatives who are working overtime to address the backlog.

“We hope, within the next couple of weeks, to be caught up,” he said.

Despite the winter claim surge, Healey noted that the DLT is exceeding federal goals for the speed of initial payments. In December, R.I. DLT issued initial payments within 14 days to more than 90% claimants, slightly higher than the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s 87% goal.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.