Vendor uncertain of exact timing of putting Tennessee unemployment site back online

Posted at 3:08 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 23:14:23-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — While the Tennessee employment site is offline, the vendor for the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development said it was working to get it back up before the holiday.

The site went down June 25, according to the department. This disrupts the program for 12,000 Tennesseans.

“We recently identified anomalous activity on our network, and immediately took the Jobs4TN system offline to halt the activity," Geographic Solutions president Paul Toomey said. "With the help of third-party specialists, we are conducting a full investigation to determine the cause and scope of the incident. That investigation is still ongoing, and we are taking steps to help prevent this from happening again.  Our current focus is working around the clock to bring Jobs4TN back online.  We anticipate that this will occur prior to the July 4th holiday.“ 

The outage is hurting people who rely on the service. On Friday, Amy Dawson learned that after 10 years of working as a Patient Service Specialist for Vanderbilt Medical Center, she no longer had a job.

"I found out through a virtual hall that my job was terminated and we started this past weekend trying to retrieve my account from Jobs4TN," she said.

She was hoping to get her unemployment claim started, but instead found the state's website was offline.

Chris Cannon with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the outage started Sunday.

"We really only know what the vendor is telling us and right now they are calling it an anomalous activity. No real details on what that is. They have not told us exactly what was happened because their investigations are still ongoing," he said.

Cannon said he knows people are making tough choices in today's economy. He said the state is working to get answers about the outage too.

"We understand prices are through the roof right now and people are living by every penny they can get in. We understand and we understand that frustration. We're frustrated to because we can't provide this critical service to Tennesseans," he said.

The Florida Sun Sentinel is reporting an outage in Florida due to a cyberattack with Geographic Solutions. So far, that makes California, Nebraska, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee dealing with an outage.

Lawmakers said they were currently frustrated with what was going on the outage, particularly Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, who is the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee chairman.

"With a recession looming, it is unacceptable that Tennesseans cannot receive the unemployment benefits they deserve," Bailey said. "Unfortunately, this is not the first time there have been failures in the system. The Department of Labor needs a backup plan, so they are not completely dependent on a system proven to be unreliable. It should be a priority of this Administration to ensure Tennesseans receive benefits in a timely manner, but we continue to see failure. There is absolutely no excuse anymore. The General Assembly provided funds to update the department’s antiquated system, and every measure should be taken to streamline this move. My office is in communication with the Department and are working to help resolve this issue once and for all. In the meantime, I expect the department and this administration to do whatever it takes to get Tennesseans their unemployment benefits now."

An audit published in March detailed how several issues — including identity fraud — led to Tennessee mishandling more than $1.9 million in unemployment benefits. In September 2020, the department requested systems changes with their vendor, Geographic Solutions. The idea was to have better communication between state and federal programs

The audit notes that the automation process by Geographic Solutions Unemployment Systems (GUS), “did not function as expected and automatically approved claims for payment despite the presence of unresolved issues.”

In NewsChannel 5's last interview with commissioner Jeff McCord, he made it clear that there had not been any widespread hacks with their vendor during the pandemic.

When asked why the state was still with Geographic Solutions after all the issues they've seen, he said they’re locked in a contract but would consider making a change soon after.