Unemployed Americans have a new full-time job: Filing for jobless benefits

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It took Nils Warren almost three days filled with website crashes and cursing just to file for unemployment benefits in Florida, finally completing the application at 4:20 a.m. on April 1.

Nearly three weeks later, the audio engineer, who saw his business dry up last month amid the coronavirus pandemic, has yet to be approved.

With his claim still listed as pending, Warren received a notice a week ago to upload additional data that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis had suspended but the system was still requesting. He spent up to eight hours a day on multiple web browsers attempting to comply but kept getting sent back to the initial pages. He dialed the state Department of Economic Opportunity many times, only to hear a recording asking him to call again later.

Warren has no choice but to keep trying. The father of a teenage son needs the weekly payment so he doesn’t drain his savings.

“It’s very demoralizing to sit there and constantly get on and get kicked out,” said Warren, who doesn’t expect to see business pick up again until the end of August at the earliest. “After a while, it’s nuts.”

More than a month into the nation’s coronavirus-spurred economic crisis, state unemployment agencies remained overwhelmed by the record number of newly jobless Americans filing for benefits. Around 22 million people, or roughly 13.5% of the labor force, have submitted initial jobless claims since March 14.

The jobless still having trouble filing for benefits

CNN reached out to readers it profiled in recent weeks, asking whether they’ve started receiving benefits. No luck so far, they said.

Florida’s agency, which did not return a request for comment, has come under fire from residents who’ve tried to get through.

The state opted to add paper applications earlier this month after its website and call center were deluged. Also, the agency said on April 7 that it would add more than 1,000 staffers, in part by contracting with customer call centers. And it unveiled a mobile-friendly application for those filing new claims. But it also now takes down its online site overnight for maintenance, much to the consternation of Warren and others who found it easiest to gain access late at night.

Florida is far from the only state having issues. Agencies around the country have added online capacity, beefed up their workforce and extended their hours to handle the crush of filers and process millions of new claims in recent weeks.

Yet, jobless Americans continue to take to social media and write to CNN to complain that they are still having problems filing applications.

Camilla Christiansen Poole is no closer to receiving her unemployment benefits, though she thought she filed all the necessary documents in late March after waiting on hold for nearly nine hours with North Carolina’s Division of Employment Security.

It’s the only time she’s been able to get through to a representative despite spending hours a day calling for weeks, sending several emails and filling out a contact form a few times.

The Asheville resident remains listed as ineligible, though she receives emails asking her to certify her status each week. She and her husband, who is still working, have cut their spending — buying less costly food at the supermarket, such as soup, rice and beans.

Fortunately for Poole, she returned to work as a medical courier this past week, but only on a part-time basis. She believes she still qualifies for some unemployment assistance, but can’t reach anyone at the agency to find out.

Discouraged, she now spends only 30 minutes a day trying to call. However, she tried a new avenue on Wednesday, emailing a local NCWorks Career Center. It told her it would submit her name to the state agency and that some of its clients were being contacted.

The division, which did not return a request for comment, said Friday that it has added 400 people to its staff of 500 to process claims and issue payments, and will hire another 700 workers within a week.

Poole, however, doesn’t understand why she and others aren’t getting calls back.

“What kind of system do they have in place to actually respond to people?” she said. “My frustration hasn’t subsided.”

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