Thousands of Tennesseans waiting on unemployment checks, state trying to clear backlog

(Courtesy: WJHL)
(Courtesy: WJHL)

TRI CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL)- A new computer system intended to help out of work Tennesseans is to blame for thousands of people in need of a check.

An investigation revealed a major computer upgrade isn’t living up to expectations, and that’s put a lot of people in a tough spot as they wait for their unemployment checks.

Chris Cannon with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said back in May they upgraded their decades-old website, and moved the process for filing for unemployment completely online, eliminating the option to do it over the phone.

Tennessee spent millions of dollars to make it happen.

Jerry Goforth was laid off from his job in Greeneville after Thanksgiving. Since then he’s been waiting on his unemployment check. “It’s just been a nightmare trying to get through this Christmas season,” Goforth said.

For the past 15 years he has worked for a company on an as need basis, hiring him then laying him off as needed. In between times he files for unemployment. But he says this year is unlike any other.

“We faced this trouble before but nowhere near this severe and nowhere near, it’s not been this level of non-communication from the state,” Goforth said.

He said he usually gets his check within two weeks, but he’s now going on five weeks of waiting.

“As the process has become more and more online it’s becoming harder and harder to get,” Goforth said.

Cannon said since May when they revamped the website and put the process completely online, “Right off the bat we had a backlog of claims in May because people had questions about using the new system so they were calling the department to have those answers and that created a backlog right out the gate for us, something that we didn’t anticipate.”

He said the new system is sensitive. “If there was a single issue with the claim for example it will take that claim out and send it to review by a claims agent, well that just created more of a backlog,” Cannon said.

He said right now about 6,000 claims still in the system are beyond the 21 days the federal government allows.

“We expect to have that backlog down to almost no backlog within at least a month. We cleared at least 6,000 in the last month and hope to clear 6,000 in the coming weeks with the new procedures we have in place and the new efficiencies we have added to the computer system, “Cannon said.

He said once the backlog is cleared, all other new claims should move quickly.

“It is a lifeline for a lot of people and we understand that and there have been many sleepless nights and no one wants this to be fixed faster than the people who works for the department and they are dedicated to getting this done as quickly as possible,” Cannon said.