Mississippi lawmakers are pressing the state department of employment security to process unemployment claims faster. As MPB’s Desare Frazier reports, legislators are getting complaints from their constituents in the midst of the pandemic.
Jammed phone lines and long waits on hold are some of the complaints state senators say they’re hearing about the department of employment security. Thursday senators held a hearing to find solutions. Republican Senator Jeremy England of Jackson County is Vice Chair of the Economic Workforce Development Committee.
“I have a lot of constituents who are being told I’m calling in, we’re finally getting in touch with somebody and they don’t have any answers for us,” said England.
Agency officials say the coronavirus has led to an enormous increase in unemployment claims--from 1,000 per week to as many as 45,000. And they say the skills needed to process claims takes time to learn. Timothy Rush is with MDES. He says doing background checks in order to hire more staff is also time consuming.
“We’re trying to up the number, clearing the background checks, yet we probably have another 50 people today that we’re still waiting on background checks for,” said Rush.
Executive Director Jackie Turner added Mississippi law requires the agency to investigate a person’s work history with several employers, not just one--which slows down the process. Turner adds some employers can’t be reached because offices are closed due to the pandemic.
She told the committee they’re working on some changes right now.
"We have a very good plan for moving things forward very quickly in the next 7 to 10 days," said Turner.
The committee is looking into temporarily changing the law to allow the department of employment security to check a worker’s history with one employer to help expedite processing claims.