SALEM, Ore. - Wait times at the Employment Department Unemployment Insurance call centers have been extremely long, officials acknowledged Thursday as they outlined steps being taken to reduce them.
"We recognize that many Oregonians calling our unemployment insurance center are experiencing long wait times," said David Gerstenfeld, assistant director for unemployment insurance programs. "This is totally unacceptable to us. So, we took a long look at why this was occurring and what could be done to improve."
Gerstenfeld said that Oregon is not alone in the challenge of serving the unemployed in a timely and efficient manner. Declining revenues from the U.S. Department of Labor since the end of the recession have caused many states to reconsider how services are provided.
"Some states have drastically reduced the number of hours their call centers are available to the public, and some states are eliminating their call centers altogether, opting for providing all services online," Gerstenfeld said. "We are looking for alternatives that will actually increase service, while staying within our budgetary constraints."
While the number of Oregonians receiving unemployment services has been steadily declining since the recession, Gerstenfeld said funding has also been falling. In July 2013, Oregon made over 187,000 unemployment insurance benefit payments, 10% less than in July 2012. During that same time period, staffing levels in the unemployment insurance call center decreased by over 17%.
The Oregon Employment Department, Gerstenfeld said, considers the call centers to be a vital link for unemployed Oregonians. Therefore, in order to improve the experience for claimants, the department has made several changes in staffing and processes.
• Matching staffing levels to better meet customer demand at peak call time throughout the week
• Having staff from other parts of the Employment Department take on additional work to help people contacting the call center
• Enhancing the on-line experience
• Providing more self-service tools for claimants in the near future.
The department is also asking Oregonians with an unemployment insurance claim to help reduce wait times:
• Report a claim each week
• Use the online and automated telephone systems
Channeling Oregonians with an unemployment insurance claim to weekly reporting will enhance the overall service experience.
"Making these two changes will free up the phone lines for those who have an issue that requires they speak to a claims agent," Gerstenfeld said.
Claimants can use the online claim system at www.WorkingInOregon.org/ocs to:
• File an initial claim for benefits
• File a weekly claim including entering work search activities
• Check the status of their claim
• Restart a claim
• Check a claim balance
• Update their address
• Sign up for electronic deposit
• And much more.
Another option is to use the weekly claim line (1-800-982-8920), to file a weekly claim for benefits, including reporting work search activities, by following simple voice prompts.
If during the claim filing process an issue is discovered, the department will send a notice to call the unemployment insurance call center for direct customer service.
"Using the online claim system or the weekly claim line is much faster than calling the unemployment insurance call center for assistance. Using one of these two automated systems will free call center phone lines for people who must have direct contact to receive service," Gerstenfeld said.