Thousands of calls answered, but many left on hold as Tennessee unemployment works to keep pace

Posted at 6:33 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 19:34:00-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Officials with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development say the best way to reach them is still by phone, even as call volumes show little signs of slowing down.

Back in April, it wasn’t at all unusual for the unemployment call centers to field more than 100,000 calls in a day. These days, the number of calls fluctuates far more. According to spokesperson Chris Cannon, they’ve hired more call agents in the past two weeks to help answer more calls sooner.

As Cannon puts it however, “it comes down to numbers.” In an email Tuesday afternoon, he goes on to say, “it would be very difficult to hire the amount of people needed to answer that many incoming calls.”

Cannon said they’re now working to answer questions before a phone call is needed, “which could free up resources so more people can get through.”

They will continue to hire new agents with the hope of increasing their capacity on the phones, as well as looking into new ways to answer questions before a phone call is needed.

In five days last week, call centers worked with 26,442 claims. Each claimant with a different question and different needs. The number however, pales in comparison to how many calls in total they may have had the same week.

There are of course people who call multiple times like Lamarious Pinkston who said on one day, he was up to 65 calls just to get through.

Cannon said the best time to call is before and after peak hours. That amounts to as early as before 8 a.m. and as late as after 4:30 p.m.

Pinkston is up at 7 a.m. every morning to make his calls and says he rarely hears back.

“It hangs up and of course you have to keep calling multiple times and then you’ll be on hold and then it’ll just disconnect the call,” said Pinkston.

Pinkston is still waiting on his first unemployment payment, but knows the issue could be in the lack of communication between his employer Pizza Hut and the state. He’s been told the state seems to believe he’s been working this entire time, when in reality he’s been home.

With rent payments due, Pinkston was hoping to at least have retroactive pay to cover his bills.

“I’m going to have to work extremely hard to come up with this money any type of way to get this and it’s not going to be from unemployment or my employer,” said Pinkston.

Asia Davis said she’s all but given up on picking up the phone. She’s hoping all the calls and messages she’s already left are enough to clear up any issues.

“After that second certification, I said maybe I can reach out by email and maybe I will be able to get a response and still no response,” said Davis.

Davis worked as a tipped worker at the Fairgrounds in Nashville. When those jobs disappeared, she began to worry how she could afford pull-ups for her 2-year-old son.

Davis is convinced the problem has to do with her being self-employed, but it’s tough to imagine it’s the only problem as other self-employed workers have since been paid.

This past week, Tennessee paid more than 307,000 weekly unemployment payments and say they could have paid a lot more. Cannon tells us, “many more claims were successfully processed, but may not have been paid because the claimant did not continue the claim to the next week.”

For more information, you can call 844-224-5818. Call centers are open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.