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NC Struggles To Handle Crush Of Virus-Related Unemployment Claims

North Carolina has received thousands of new claims for unemployment in the past two weeks, many related to the coronavirus.
North Carolina has received thousands of new claims for unemployment in the past two weeks, many related to the coronavirus.

State officials are scrambling to catch up with more than 355,000 new claims for unemployment benefits filed over the past two weeks. But even agency officials admit it can't happen fast enough. 

Since businesses started to close last month amid coronavirus concerns, workers have swamped North Carolina's phone lines and website for filing unemployment claims. There have been numerous complaints about long telephone wait times and claims not going through online. 

Lockhart Taylor, who runs the Division of Employment Security, told reporters all those claims add up to "almost a thousand claims an hour, 24 hours a day, the last 14 day" since the crisis began.    

"We know that a lot of people have had problems accessing our system or getting through on the phones," Taylor said. "This is not acceptable. We have taken immediate action in the face of this historic challenge. We hear your frustration."  

Those actions include adding 350 people -- on top of an existing staff of 500 people -- to answer phones and process claims. Some started this week, Lockhart said. That includes 50 people at a private call center the state hired that eventually will have 200 employees. 

Call centers also will expand hours, staying open until 8 p.m. weekdays and working Saturdays. He didn't say when that would begin. 

Taylor says the first $8.2 million in unemployment checks went out this week, and he says that number will rise sharply in the coming days.  He warned people who are approved for benefits that it takes about two weeks for their first checks to arrive. 

The federal government has promised additional benefits on top of state payments. Taylor said that will take longer. He's still waiting for guidance from the federal Department of Labor. 

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