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States must proactively fulfil their obligation to serve citizens
by Sarah Spinosa

It is fair to say that all State Departments of Labor and Workforce Services have a mission to serve citizens with ease, ultimately driving to re-employment as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, initial filings for unemployment insurance rose to 861,000 last week – the highest since mid-January and far more than the Bloomberg economist estimate of 773,000[1]. The question becomes, then, why haven’t the states been proactive to serve their citizens as their mission claims?

It is no wonder citizens are feeling frustrated. Not only is being furloughed, or worse yet, permanently let go, a severe blow to the ego that often incites panic for the 63% of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck. Then consider the attempts to contact their unemployment offices, which are overwhelmed by the volume of requests for citizen assistance. 

My situation was far more frustrating than I had ever anticipated, as my husband was furloughed in April 2020. He followed all the steps to file for unemployment just as the state website described, received a determination letter – great news, we thought! Then we waited for the first check to be deposited in our bank account. Mortgage, utilities, car payments went out… yet no unemployment insurance payments came in. He filed weekly, holding out hope that the payment would come any day. Days grew to weeks which grew to months, all without being able to reach another human being who could look at our situation and answer the question of “what is going on?!” Though we often shudder at having to make a phone call in favor of the ease of self-service, this time, we wanted a person assuring us that the number in our bank account would soon bounce back to what it once was before my co-household provider’s income suddenly dried up. 

Pick up the phone, he did. Twice a day for seven weeks, totaling a minimum of at least 70 attempted phone calls at all different hours with fingers crossed that he would hear a live voice on the other end of the phone. You see, the dismal state unemployment office phone system would play a two-minute recording before ultimately disconnecting due to no agents being available. The live chat system on their website was a disaster. A glimmer of hope would tell you that you had a place in the virtual line, only to eventually time out due to an overwhelmed system attempting to field thousands of angry citizen’s issues. 

The worst part of it all was knowing it didn’t have to be this way, and it may not have been if we lived in Tennessee! You see the Tennessee Department of Labor adopted ContactEngine to assist them with servicing their citizens, turning what could be a frustrating reactive process into an elegant, proactive citizen journey.

Here’s how it could have gone: After opting in, my husband could have received proactive communication from ContactEngine on behalf of the state to let him know if his application was incomplete. If so, they would have directed him back to the application. Once the application was complete, ContactEngine, again on behalf of the state, could have confirmed a payment would be made. The journey then changes over a digital work service check-in, making sure the citizen has looked for a job. Once verified through a human like conversation in SMS or email, an ongoing unemployment insurance payment is confirmed. Additionally, ContactEngine could engage the citizen with resources to build job skills, get education credits, resume building and interviewing skills. All of this is done proactively reaching out along the journey until re-employment.  When a job is confirmed ContactEngine updates the insurance application and terminates payments.

Only after we contacted our representative (who was up for re-election in November 2020) did we get any help. There was no explanation from the state Department of Labor – just a deposit into our bank account months after the initial filing and after my husband finally returned to work. I can only imagine what citizens in other states have been experiencing. Still, if it’s anything like what we went through, state Departments of Labor owe it to their citizens to explore what ContactEngine can do for their citizens. 

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