LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Crystal Adams began calling the Kentucky unemployment insurance help line at 6:59 am Thursday.
She got the same recorded message she had encountered the day before: “All our agents are busy assisting other customers. Please try again later. Thank you,” followed by the system hanging up on her.
For the next 25 minutes, Adams – an IT professional who lives in eastern Jefferson County – called again and again – 96 times in all, her phone record shows. Finally, she didn’t get hung up on, but placed in the line to talk to an agent, who came on the line after a half-hour hold.
Gov. Andy Beshear shut down the state unemployment system last week to stop fraudsters from accessing people’s accounts, a move that locked about 300,000 people like Adams out of their accounts. Now, they have to reregister using personal identification numbers (PINs) the state has mailed via the Post Office.
As of Thursday, about 10% of 300,000 people who were mailed new PINs had reregistered, Beshear's general counsel Amy Cubbage said.
For those who haven’t received the letter, calling the state help line (502-564-2900) is the only way to gain the new PIN necessary to access their accounts. But the 150-person call center is often too busy to even place people in line for an answer, so it hangs up on them. WDRB News still found the line too busy to take new callers on Friday.
Beshear said Thursday that the line won't be busy as more people get their letters in the mail and that he is willing to keep the call center going longer than the initially planned 10 days if necessary.
Having reached an agent on the phone line Thursday morning, Adams eventually gained access to her account – after additional steps so confusing that she decided to make an eight-page guide to help others navigate the process.
It was especially important to Adams to get back into her account, so she didn’t miss her chance to request her biweekly benefits.
“I feel very sorry for all the hundreds and thousands of people right now who aren’t going to get it done by today and aren’t going to get two weeks of money,” she said. “…For the next two weeks, they’re not going to be able to pay their bills, because this is so screwed up.”
Beshear and Cubbage were more upbeat about the process during his press conference Thursday.
Cubbage said state workers from various departments worked in the evening recently to complete trainings so they could staff the 150-person call center dedicated to resetting PINs. That allowed Kentucky to reboot its unemployment system after only four days when, she said, when it took California two weeks during a similar shut down last fall.
“It is truly extraordinary what we have been able to do,” she said.
Beshear said Thursday that the call volume at the 502-564-2900 line will lessen as more people receive letters in the mail with their new PINs, which obviates the need to reach an agent on the phone. The letters were mailed April 9, officials said last week.
But Beshear said he would staff the call center longer than the 10 days he had previously announced if necessary to handle the volume of calls.
“We’re gonna go longer if that’s what it takes to get people their help,” Beshear said.
He added that the April 15 return of in-person unemployment services at 13 state employment offices provides a lot of help for people struggling with their claims.
“With 150 people answering phone calls, with the return of in-person appointments, I think we are turning a corner,” Beshear said. “It doesn’t mean we will get there overnight.”