The trouble-plagued website and automated phone system at the state’s Department of Unemployment Assistance suffered a new setback this week, frustrating first-time applicants and current recipients of benefits seeking to file claims.
The website was either out of commission or slow on Sunday and Monday, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development told The Eagle on Tuesday, while callers to the automated telephone service known as TeleCert encountered busy signals.
But by midday on Tuesday, she said, normal service had been restored both on the phone system and the website.
Jobless benefits-seekers contacted news media statewide earlier this week, complaining that they had encountered a message in red type when they tried to log on to the state’s website: "We are experiencing intermittent technical problems."
The office of State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, reported a continuing flood of complaints about the website earlier this month by scores of Berkshire-area residents trying to file unemployment claims.
According to the state spokeswoman, anywhere from 100 to 300 people continue to encounter problems each week caused by difficulties converting data from the state’s old websites to the new one installed last July 1 by Deloitte Consulting under a $46 million contract.
The snafus last summer and this fall have caused delays of up to several months for some people seeking benefits. Others were billed erroneously by the state for so-called overpayments of previous claims.
Hearings on the continuing problems are scheduled later this month at the State House in Boston.
According to the Boston Globe, an unemployed electrical engineer from Groton spent 14 hours on Sunday and Monday trying to process his weekly claim through the website. Problems included an inability to log on, frozen pages, slow-as-molasses processing signaled by an ever-spinning hourglass, and being kicked off the site just before he hit the "submit" button for an application.
The automated phone system was unreachable because of heavy volume, adding to the frustration of claimants.
The causes of the website and phone system difficulties were still being "diagnosed" on Tuesday afternoon, the state spokeswoman said.
"These temporary issues have no impact on a claimant’s eligibility for benefits," the Department of Unemployment Assistance said in a statement issued on Monday. "We are working diligently to quickly resolve this issue, and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this may be causing claimants."
Anyone experiencing trouble online can call (617) 626-6800 to request benefits, the DUA statement added. The line was functioning normally on Tuesday afternoon, The Eagle confirmed.
Some website users had received an e-mail message blaming the problems on the need to reprogram the computer system because the federal extension of benefits to the long-term unemployed expired last Friday. But that explanation has not been confirmed by the state.
Massachusetts is not the only state affected by problems with DeLoitte Consulting’s web-based systems. Florida labor officials fined the company $1.5 million several weeks ago after numerous glitches surfaced in a new unemployment benefits site it created for the state, similar to the one it launched last summer in Massachusetts.
State unemployment insurance regulations require claimants to file for benefits weekly as long as they are eligible.
The failure of Congress to agree on renewing the extended benefits immediately affects nearly 1,000 people in Berkshire County, about 60,000 statewide and 1.3 million across the country. By May, the national figure is expected to approach 4.5 million.
More than 140,000 Massachusetts residents are collecting unemployment benefits currently.
Information from the Boston Globe was included in this report.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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