BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana Workforce Commission and its unemployment insurance call center were without power until late Sunday, Sept. 7. This power failure blocked access to the LWC’s computer systems and severely hampered its ability to approve continuing claims, take new claims or make payments.
The LWC expected power to be restored days ago, but the difficulties faced by the power company are more widespread and difficult than anticipated. The LWC has taken extraordinary steps to work around the obstacles posed by the power failure.
“We’re aware of the difficulties our customers are having in getting through to us on the phone and we’re aware of the hardship caused by our Web site being down,” LWC Executive Director Tim Barfield said. “The cause of these difficulties is beyond our control, but we’re doing everything possible to find other ways to provide service to the people who need it.”
These measures include:
• Moving critical elements of the LWC claims system to a private provider on Thursday.
• Contracting with a national company for private call center services the day before the storm to prepare it to take over the LWC’s call center operation in the event it was cut off. That private call center has been operating since last week and is tripling the number of agents on the phone by Monday, Sept. 8 – as fast as it can ramp up.
• Quickly staffing a provisional call center at a private facility in Baton Rouge with LWC staff this weekend.
• Contracting with another national company for additional call center capacity beginning Monday, Sept. 8, and possibly doubling the scope of that contract by Tuesday, Sept. 9.
• Extending the hours of Business and Career Solutions Centers beginning on Thursday to help people file new unemployment claims resulting from the hurricane. They have stayed open through the weekend.
• Working with Texas before the storm to arrange for three of its mobile units to augment Louisiana’s two workforce mobile units. Those units began mobilizing on Thursday and will be sent throughout the devastated region to take new claims and provide job search and placement services. They are equipped with banks of computers connected by satellite to the LWC’s computer systems.
Once all these measures are in place, the LWC will have implemented a 10-fold increase in its standard call center capacity.
“We will keep these measures in place until hold times and other measures of our customer service are acceptable both to the public and to us,” Barfield said.
Barfield emphasized that the LWC’s delays in taking new claims, whether the unemployment was caused by Hurricane Gustav or not, will not significantly delay the start of benefit payments. The legally mandated processes required to establish such things as eligibility and amount of payments, even under normal circumstances, mean payments typically do not start for three to four weeks after a job loss.
Our agents and private contractors are taking claims for unemployment benefits from those whose jobs have been interrupted by the disaster caused by Hurricane Gustav in 36 parishes declared eligible for individual assistance. Those parishes are Acadia, Allen, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, Rapides, Sabine, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Vermilion, Vernon, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana.
These Disaster Unemployment Assistance claims also cover people who would not otherwise be eligible under the state unemployment system (self employed, farmers, fisherman, etc.) and certain others. They have until Oct. 6, 2008, to file.
The earliest period for which a person unemployed because of the disaster can be paid is the week ending Sept. 13. Payments for the eligible period will begin in early October. Initial payments for up to the first three weeks will be a minimum of $104 a week, subject to such things as initial eligibility determination, and maximum benefits would be up to $258 per week for up to 26 weeks if they remain unemployed.
People with continuing claims (which began before Hurricane Gustav struck) who are still unemployed are being asked for their contact information and they will be called back or directed to the LWC site on the Internet once it is restored and historical data in our computer system can be accessed.
The LWC also is taking call-back information for people with initial unemployment claims for job losses that are not related to Hurricane Gustav. These people also will be called back by our agents now that power has been restored to our Baton Rouge administrative buildings and once our computer system can be brought back online. Our agents will work through the call back list this week.
People in this situation also will not have any payments significantly delayed as a result of the power failure. People in this situation will be paid on a similar schedule to those filing disaster-related unemployment claims. However, if there are any issues related to those claims, such as their previous employer contesting the claim, those payments could be further delayed. Maximum benefits are $258 per week, based on actual wages, for up to 26 weeks if they remain unemployed.
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