Labor Department talks the talk, but still must walk the walk
Like many others, I have been following the coverage of the stressors and obstacles The Connecticut Department of Labor has faced amid this pandemic, and the very hopeful resolutions outlined in the article written by Keith M. Phaneuf , “DOL Says Unemployment Backlog Solved by Computer Fix.”
In his article Phaneuf dove into the technical issues of the outdated programming that had only been further exacerbated by the huge number of unemployment cases; he also referenced Deputy Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo’s encouraging assurance that “this new system should eliminate most of the 180,000-application backlog by April 25, complete with retroactive payments.”
While this was the general theme of local journalistic coverage at the time, we are nearly a month following, and families are still not closer to having answers or provisions to care for their families. Despite Bartolomeo’s monumental new system promising applicants will no longer have to wait several weeks for relief, many families have had to do exactly that.
Personally, I filed for unemployment on April 9; I was provided a letter by my employer outlining my furlough, which was submitted along with my formal application. I was also given the advantage that my employer submitted a completed “Unemployment Notice” as found in the optional “Separation Package.” Within the very day of my applying I received what I can only assume was an automated reply from “DOL Representative” verifying my application had been received. I was instructed to wait for my confirmation email, which would signify my application was received and processed, before filing my weekly claims.
My confirmation email did not arrive until May 2, over three weeks later, and I filed my weekly claim as per the directions outlined in the email. Wrought with worry that somehow my application would join others in one of these loopholes I went so far as to review the recommended “short video [providing] tips” and visiting the FAQs regularly to see if any daily updates would indeed be posted.
I have now filed for three weeks, every Sunday, as directed. Every day I have a reminder set for the hours of operation outlined on the CT DOL website so I can check any updated activity on my account. Then I habitually check to see if any responses or updates have been communicated through my email or personal mail since the phone number has been inaccessible for weeks. But my account remains in an error state with a “message code 30” indicating my claims since April 11 still have yet to be processed.
No monies distributed. No funds assigned. No stipend or relief awarded.
When it was recommended that direct deposit would accelerate the delivery of benefits, I began reaching out as that pathway led claimants to yet another unidentified error. The system, it seemed, overrode my entry and carried over an outdated account used from several years ago. These, and other requests or concerns emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, the address listed on CT DOL Contact Us page, by myself and other claimants have gone unanswered for weeks.
Friends of mine continue to experience a similar plight. Mothers with families are being denied SNAP because of income restrictions, but there’s no unemployment actually being paid to justify the terms of these denials; appeals are being dismissed by the promise CT DOL continues to publish again and again:
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) programming has been successfully completed, with payments of the $600 supplemental benefit to begin April 27, 2020. Once a claimant begins to receive this federal weekly payment, they can expect a subsequent lump sum payment for all retroactive weeks within the next two weeks.
Individuals who were given a partial payment of their retro pay back in April are now starting a third week of no funds. Some are given the same error code I previously referenced, “Message Code 30; Week ending claim held pending determination. Continue to file as directed.”
And so they fall in line and continue to file despite following through on their due diligence brings no further compensation or answer. Another common error claimants are finding is “Message Code 108: Your claim filed by phone/web is being held due to a potential issue. Visit www.filectui.com.” Alas, no further instruction or clarification is posted or revealed by accessing that site.
While I sympathize for the great stress this department is under, the duress of Connecticut’s working class is only exacerbated by these uncontrollable conditions that we as a population are needing to carry in addition to the stressors of today’s reality.
As an experienced manager I empathize with the frustrations of being understaffed, overwhelmed, and overworked; as do many of those trying to navigate this unemployment debacle. However, in what industry, even with the capricious trends for our essential workers, would two months of ill-articulated customer communication; restricted explanations fed through third party media sources limited to two questions each; along with empty promises and general deadlines but no measure of accountability not be maddening and unethical?
All in all, The Department of Labor is a service, and it is not okay that we have lost our voice in these concerning times. Bartolomeo must be made liable for her previous guarantees that claims will take only seven days to process, as well as the assurance that the new systems were to be capable of resolving the excessive backlog of unpaid benefits and hidden loopholes.
Erin Sherwood lives in Norwalk.
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