Jefferson City, MO –– The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ (DOLIR’s), Division of Employment Security (DES) reports that it has processed over $3.4 billion in unemployment benefit payments to more than 490,000 unemployed Missourians since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
In the last few months, the DES saw a 254% increase in initial claims compared to all the initial claims it processed in 2019.
To handle the historic number of claims, the DES utilized 300+ staff from all their program areas, other DOLIR divisions, nine other Missouri state agencies and outside call center vendor help. It also hired both temporary and full-time staff to assist citizens in processing claims.
While UInteract, the unemployment claims online filing system, has overall been reliably operating in response to the historical claims volume, there have been instances of system downtime to increase capacity in order to more effectively deliver benefits under the three new federal programs created under the CARES Act.
“Despite DES’ own best efforts to serve Missourians during this time of historic and record-breaking call volumes with staff from the existing state workforce and temporary hiring, we know that more resources are needed. It is our highest goal to help Missourians who are frustrated that their calls are not being answered as quickly as we would like, especially those whose unemployment claims are still pending after many weeks,” said DOLIR Director Anna Hui.
“Every claim that awaits an eligibility determination is an individual facing uncertainty on the next step of how to pay for groceries, rent and other bills,” stated Hui. “This is why we are engaging the help of Ernst and Young, whose additional manpower, perspectives, expertise, and experiences will help the state meet citizens’ needs by processing claims and answering calls, all the while analyzing our existing unemployment program processes so that together we can improve service delivery to meet current and future needs. We look forward to adding these additional resources to support those in the state workforce who have been working tirelessly to serve Missourians during this historic time.”
Ernst and Young staffing and expertise will be adding to ongoing efforts by the DES to improve and enhance process and system operations. This includes enhanced reporting to pinpoint claim issues in order to improve timely resolution, as well as a review of the web-based application system to make it more user-friendly and easier to navigate.
While the DES is already working on an outbound calling system where claimants can schedule an appointment time for someone to call back and assist them, the DES also continues to hire employees and temporary workers to help with the call volume and claims processing.
Finally, the DES is working with the Missouri Office of Administration to have other resources on stand-by for additional outside call and claims assistance in order to more efficiently meet future program workload needs.
“With these additional resources onboard, we are better positioned to meet citizens’ needs and improve flexibility in our processes so that we can better adapt to future federal and state changes to the unemployment program,” concluded Hui. “We are now operating in a time of rapid and constant change but our dedicated state employees stand ready to meet those challenges. With the extra help of our contract partners, we will be able to complete our mission even faster and more efficiently.”