North Carolina unemployment office has seen 5,000 percent surge in claims since start of the pandemic

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Department of Commerce Division of Employment Security (DES) has taken more claims in just 64 days than it did during the whole year of 2009 during the Great Recession.

That's what the assistant secretary of DES, Lockhart Taylor, told the Senate Committee on Commerce and Insurance during an address Monday.

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According to Taylor, in the past 64 days, nearly 900,000 people have filed for unemployment in the state. And as of May 18, DES has paid out over $2 billion to more than 500,000 unemployed workers.

In total, he said, the surge recorded by DES has exceeded 5,000 percent.

DES officials said that, in order to meet the need, they have been focusing on upgrading systems, strengthening the division's workforce, and improving their overall process. Claims that have had the longest delays are prioritized first and the call center has scaled up from handling 6,000 calls a day to 42,000 calls a day.

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Taylor said Monday that, by the end of the week, call capacity will be at 65,000 calls per day.

He told the Senate Committee that, to help with that, DES contracted with Amazon Web Services and a private call center.

The department also recently added a chat feature on its website as another customer service tool.

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As far as staffing goes, before the pandemic, DES had a staff of about 500 people. Now approximately 2,600 people are working on unemployment claims.

"We are aware that we still have significant problems meeting the needs of North Carolinians. As you know, our call center has been completely overwhelmed," Taylor told the committee. "Many people have been on hold for hours, disconnected because the hold queue is full, or dissatisfied with the service the agent was able to provide. This is unacceptable to me, to Secretary Copeland, and to Governor Cooper. And we are fixing it."

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"To every person here today, to every person you Senators have tried to assist with a claim, and to anyone who has been waiting to get the benefits they deserve, I am sorry," he said. "You have my commitment to work every day to ensure that we can meet the demand of every North Carolinian who files a claim, has a question, or needs help of any kind."
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