Facing a flurry of complaints from Berkshire residents, the five members of the county's state legislative delegation have co-sponsored a letter outlining their concerns with the state's new online unemployment benefit system.
The letter, dated Aug. 23, was signed by State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and the county's four state representatives, William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, Paul Mark, D-Peru, Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.
It was sent to Joanne Goldstein, the secretary of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and Michelle Amante, who runs the Division of Unemployment Assistance.
The letter calls on the state agency to address problems detailed by the lawmakers based on feedback from the public. Examples listed in the letter include, "a long waiting period on DUA phone lines ... many constituents report waiting over an hour before being disconnected."
"The online system does not allow a claimant to get specific information pertaining to the status of their individual claim, resulting in a lag time in resolving underlying issues," the letter states.
"Inconsistent information is relayed by service representatives."
The lawmakers wrote, "We believe it is an indication that the system is not operating effectively or efficiently when so many residents are left with no choice but to call their legislators for assistance with their claim."
They also noted that many Berkshire residents seeking unemployment benefits live in areas with little or no access to high speed Internet service. Their sole recourse for DUA assistance, the letter states, "seems to be an inconsistent and burdensome phone system."
Goldstein replied to the Berkshire delegation's letter on Aug. 30. In her written response she stated that officials are "acutely aware" that some claimants are experiencing "wait times" as long as "40 minutes," which have since been reduced to 30 minutes.
"We are as frustrated and concerned by this as you are," she wrote.
"We want every claimant to get through as soon as possible," Goldstein added, noting that the state has hired about about 100 additional call-center staffers, and provided extra training.
"We appreciate that Berkshire County has a unique constituency and that the limited broadband access creates particular challenges," she wrote.
Goldstein cited the availability of an automated phone system with no wait time for processing benefits.
In an interview with The Eagle, she also maintained that the new computer system does allow claimants to check on the status of their benefits.
"I'll be in touch with the delegation on that," she said.