SCDEW adding 400 workers to help answer phones, questions about unemployment

VIDEO: SCDEW adding 400 workers to help answer phones, questions about unemployment

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Since the coronavirus pandemic started, South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce has seen 341,730 claims for unemployment.

Here are the number of initial unemployment claims reported each week:

  • 3/21: 31,054
  • 3/28: 64,856
  • 4/4: 85,018
  • 4/11: 87,686
  • 4/18: 73,116

According to DEW officials, the week ending April 18 is the first decrease recorded since mid-March.

SCDEW Chief of Staff Jamie Suber said there was no way the agency could have been ready for the amount of claims they saw in such a short amount of time.

“I really believe no one could’ve been prepared,” Suber said. “The volume was too high. There was just no way we could wrap up staff quick enough to provide services to the magnitude of individuals that are in need right now.”

We’ve heard from many of you about all of the issues you’ve been having when dealing with the Department of Employment and Workforce. One of the most common issues we’ve heard has been when calling the DEW.

“I apologize,” Suber said. “We know it’s an inconvenience. The Contact Center has been a place of effort right now. When the pandemic started we were averaging close to 50 dedicated agents in regards to answering and providing customer service.”

Suber confirmed they have been working with contractors to bring in additional Contact Center staff. As of Monday, there were more than 400 people working in the center.

“We continue to train and develop those individuals,” Suber said. “Not only are they answering the phones, they’re able to provide resolution. And that’s been the focal point over the last week and going forward is giving individuals more so they can actually resolve.”

But Suber said he knows there have been issues. He said Unemployment Insurance is a technical field and can be difficult for someone to come off the streets into a customer service role and actually understand that program.

“We know that individuals are trying to get to us and we have to create a strategy that allows people to get served.”

Suber said right now they’re looking at recording calls in real-time and will be making adjustments.

“It’s such a huge program to try and implement and incorporate over such a short period of time,” Suber said. “I think we have truly addressed the concerns of those that are in need, however, there is still a lot of work to be done and a rough road ahead of us.”

Suber said that when filing for unemployment, people have been having issues when using a mobile device. He recommended filing using a computer.

Suber added they are looking at making additional changes and modifications, but could not specifically say what those were.

Suber mentioned there were several resources available people should look at to see if their questions are answered before calling the department.

The Contact Center hours have also been extended. The center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. It will also be open on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Suber said they are continuing to monitor the prospect of funds running out.

“We look at the balances within the trust fund and understand that money is due and as long as the unemployment rate stays high and individuals are growing that will impact the solvency of the trust fund,” Suber said. “That’s something that we are going to continue to monitor and continue to assess.”

Suber didn’t have a specific timeline of when that could happen, but said there will probably be national guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor in regards to what happens if they run out of funds or as they are getting near the end of what they have in the reserve.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.