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Countless Americans cannot complete unemployment applications

Eight hours and 48 minutes.That's how long Camilla Christiansen Poole waited on hold with the North Carolina Division of Employment Security, trying t...

Posted: Apr 4, 2020 6:11 AM
Updated: Apr 4, 2020 9:15 AM

Eight hours and 48 minutes.

That's how long Camilla Christiansen Poole waited on hold with the North Carolina Division of Employment Security, trying to find out why she could not file for unemployment online.

The Asheville, North Carolina, resident had been laid off from her job as a medical courier on March 24 -- one of a record number of people left without work because of the coronavirus crisis. She called the division dozens of times, only to be disconnected. But finally, on Monday, she was placed on hold.

'I pretty much was sitting still, besides walking my dogs,' said Poole, who was prepared to stay on the line through the night. 'I was so scared. I knew it was probably a blessing that I had been looped into being on hold. I was really surprised when someone finally answered.'

Yet while Poole is among the millions of economic victims of the pandemic, she is not one of the nearly 10 million Americans who filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March -- because, like countless others, she hasn't been able to complete her application and be approved.

The crush of layoffs and furloughs have overwhelmed state unemployment agencies. More than 1,000 readers from coast to coast wrote to CNN in the last two days about the error messages, frozen screens, disconnected calls and busy signals they encountered when trying to file their initial claims.

Congress is funneling $1 billion in stimulus funds to states to help them handle the unprecedented workload. The money can't come soon enough since most state agencies are dealing with antiquated technology and smaller staffs due to recent low unemployment rates.

Unable to get through

When Poole finally got hold of a representative, she was told to upload two forms of identification, which she quickly did. But she has yet to be approved for unemployment benefits. Poole, who is married, has called dozens of times this week but has not been able to get through again.

'It's just highlighting how ill-prepared we were,' said Poole, 43, who is talking to the couple's bank about possibly deferring their mortgage payment next month. 'It's super frustrating.'

The agency said Friday that it is 'moving aggressively' to better address the unprecedented spike in filings by hiring 50 more staffers, contracting with an additional 200-person call center, adding computer servers and purchasing new equipment.

About 370,000 North Carolinians have filed for benefits since March 16, compared to 3,000 in a typical week before the pandemic hit.

Busy signals and disconnects

In San Antonio, Texas, Liam Apperley put the state Workforce Commission on speed dial after being furloughed from his sales and training job at a corporate development company on March 16.

Apperley had called 5,257 times by midday Thursday -- he checked his cellphone account -- but would either get a busy signal, a message that all circuits were busy or an automated recording to hold the line, only to be disconnected or get a voicemail saying the agency was overwhelmed by calls. On Friday, he tried calling a minute before the office opened at 8 a.m., but got a message that it was closed. After that, all he heard were busy signals.

More than half a million Texans have filed for claims in the last 18 days, the commission said Friday. The number will soon outpace the total received in all of 2019. The agency recommended that residents stagger the days they file by the first digit of their area code to ease the crunch.

Apperley, 48, who is the main breadwinner for his family and has had to start drawing down his savings, would prefer the commission set up a system to take residents' contact information and return their call at a certain time, much like many companies do.

'Even if I were to get (a message) from Texas Workforce that said we'll call you back in three or four days, at least I'd know there's some light at the end of the tunnel,' he said.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 206777

Reported Deaths: 2754
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah40354614
Washington26781248
Marion23425323
Clackamas18925235
Lane13896164
Jackson11535146
Deschutes1001582
Umatilla859387
Linn560380
Yamhill477879
Klamath477678
Polk399356
Douglas387982
Malheur361463
Josephine359872
Benton326422
Jefferson236839
Coos216637
Columbia191929
Union149824
Wasco144330
Lincoln143021
Crook129223
Hood River121933
Morrow115316
Clatsop10559
Baker101115
Curry70811
Tillamook6604
Grant5507
Lake4678
Harney4339
Wallowa1945
Gilliam801
Sherman671
Wheeler351
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3808258

Reported Deaths: 63335
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles124761824454
Riverside3016034627
San Bernardino2992894844
San Diego2817493771
Orange2729225112
Santa Clara1201102188
Kern1107821404
Sacramento1076381731
Fresno1029221724
Alameda895921273
Ventura816381031
San Joaquin746861438
Contra Costa70561813
Stanislaus633871069
Tulare49814849
Monterey43831427
San Mateo42646581
San Francisco37256556
Santa Barbara34596455
Solano33707266
Merced32291478
Sonoma30868317
Imperial28813741
Placer23537299
Kings23189247
San Luis Obispo21421261
Madera16632245
Santa Cruz16235208
Marin14200230
Yolo14156212
Butte12659194
Shasta12630233
El Dorado10371116
Napa1002580
Sutter9656113
Yuba648551
San Benito610963
Lassen578424
Tehama573163
Nevada491075
Humboldt446348
Mendocino432150
Tuolumne420771
Amador373947
Lake356345
Glenn243427
Siskiyou239437
Colusa228418
Calaveras220156
Del Norte14568
Inyo143438
Mono12954
Plumas7366
Modoc5585
Mariposa4657
Trinity4225
Sierra1150
Alpine890
Unassigned330
Medford
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 98° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 74°
Brookings
Partly Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 50°
Crater Lake
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 74°
Grants Pass
Partly Cloudy
74° wxIcon
Hi: 98° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 74°
Klamath Falls
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 71°
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