Unemployment claims have risen 3,500% since March
by Olivia Murray
For some unemployed locals, getting the benefits they need to stay financially afloat during the pandemic has been more sink than swim.
Morgantown residents seeking assistance with filing, claiming and appealing unemployment benefits during COVID-19 recently spoke out about difficulties contacting Workforce WV.
Many who have made frequent attempts to contact the organization regarding their benefits said the Morgantown office appears to be closed, emails go unanswered and hold times for phone calls make it frustrating.
“No one ever answers the phone or emails back,” said Jessica Osbin.
Denyse Mogyoros and Rachelle Bennet agreed phone calls are ineffective.
“No one can ever get ahold of anyone there,” Bennet said.
Susi Mansberry had a far more detailed story to tell regarding her experience with Workforce WV.
Her months-long struggle to access her benefits through Workforce WV began in March 2020. Mansberry, who was self-employed, attempted to file under general employment, but struggled with the process as none of the information pertained to her.
She attempted to contact the office via phone to no avail. Later, she found out there was a designated date to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and filed successfully. A few weeks later, her benefits were decreased to the state minimum without explanation.
The issue resolved itself temporarily in July when Mansberry got a job with the U.S. Census Bureau. The job was not a permanent position, and Mansberry’s term reached its end in October. In December, the Census Bureau sent an email encouraging Mansberry to once again file for unemployment.
She said since then, her experience with Workforce WV has been a game of cat-and-mouse: “I had to go through a huge hoop and maze to get someone on the phone,” Mansberry said.
Her last interaction with Workforce WV was three weeks ago, when she was told by a representative an email would be sent to an appeals specialist on Mansberry’s behalf. According to Mansberry, she hasn’t been contacted by the appeals specialist regarding her claim.
“I realize what’s going on is huge and hasn’t happened before, but to go nine months and never get a call back is way too extreme. It’s uncalled for in every way. I was told they are short-staffed. I offered to get a job and help out. The lady informed me that I wouldn’t want to work for them due to how much of a nightmare the system is. No one seems to have the correct answers,” Mansberry said.
Andy Malinoski, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Commerce and spokesperson for Workforce WV, said residents’ concerns are valid.
Malinoski said most of the Workforce WV offices are small and have been closed out of consideration for business continuity and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If they were open, they could only see, based on [square footage], one or two people in the office at the same time. We’re just concerned about lines and … that just creates another problem,” Malinoski said.
“If that office would be open and six people get sick, that’s six people that can’t process claims and help people, and that’s a concern to me,” Malinoski added.
Malinsoki also said that, since March 2020, there has been a 3,500% increase in the volume of unemployment claims being filed.
“One other driver of any delays you’re [experiencing] has been the massive amount of fraud that’s been tried to be perpetuated. The second something kicks out a claim, and it needs to be verified, sometimes we may find one of the four people that’s calling you is one of those folks. If they verify their identity, then the funds are released,” Malinoski said.
According to Malinoski, Workforce WV recently managed to decrease telephone hold times to 24 minutes at the longest, and the call menu has been changed: “If you hit 1 [on your keypad], you’ll go right into the queue to talk to someone,” Malinoski said.
He said there is a self-service portal available on the Workforce WV website for individuals who aren’t able to wait on hold on the phone. Individuals can submit a ticket through the self-service portal that will be addressed by a Workforce WV representative.
Malinoski said there are also drop-boxes at local Workforce WV locations, where individuals can submit information or forms.
“[This is] not what we’re about. We want to help folks get the benefits they’re eligible [for] and entitled to,” Malinoski said.
Resources and forms for claimants and employers can be found at https://workforcewv.org/unemployment/resources-forms.