FOX13 helps barber get answers about unemployment after he spent weeks trying

WATCH: FOX13 helps barber get answers about unemployment after he spent weeks trying

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A barbershop owner told FOX13 he’s had problems getting any answers about his unemployment claim even though he filed more than a month ago.

William Kenny Murray said he can’t get anyone on the phone or online to tell him what’s going on. It’s a complaint FOX13 has heard from a lot of people.

Murray is the owner of Memphis Finest Barbershop. He said he goes on the website Jobs4TN.gov every day to check for updates about his claim.

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He told FOX13 that as soon as you wait for about five hours to try to communicate with someone through a chat group, you have to start over the next day.

Murray told FOX13 he filed for unemployment April 19th, after the pandemic forced barbershops to shut down for several weeks.

He is back to work, but business is nowhere close to what it used to be.

“The bills they keep coming. They don’t stop. Every 30 days. And just trying to rob Peter to pay Paul,” Murray said.

Every time Murray logs on to Jobs4TN.gov, he said his weekly benefits show a zero balance. He told FOX13 he certifies every week but isn’t sure what to do next.

“Then they have this thing called the chat line. Then when you log on you see that you’re number 1,100 in line, and then by the time they close it out, then you have to start again the next day,” he said.

FOX13 reached out to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. A spokesman said the department’s call centers experience extremely high call volume daily. At the start of the pandemic, the department had 20 people answering phones. Now that number is 400.

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“You can’t talk to a human being at all,” said Murray. “That’s where we stuck at.”

The state said it is looking into new methods in the coming days to help communicate with those filing claims. An enhanced virtual chat agent will be able to answer questions, in addition to live agents.

In the meantime, Murray just hopes for brighter days.

“I pay taxes every year, and I just want to know why I’m not getting what they promised me,” he said.

The state will soon start accepting voicemails from people filing claims. This will give people the opportunity to leave critical information.

As far as Murray’s claim, the state said, “Mr. Murray is now filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and he will have six weeks of benefits paying out in the next 48-72 hours.”

The Tennessee Department of Labor sent the following statement regarding unemployment claims:

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development experienced a sudden and unprecedented surge in unemployment claims due to the COVID-19 crisis. During the week of May 11 alone, TDLWD paid more than 319,000 claimants approximately $359 million in unemployment benefits.

Since mid-March, the Department has taken a proactive approach in trying to meet the demand of the historic spike in unemployment. We immediately realigned department employees from other divisions to work on employment claims and customer service. In the weeks since, the Department has tapped new resources to provide even more capacity to help Tennesseans. There are nearly 500 additional people working in the unemployment division compared to the beginning of May.

The Department upgraded the hardware that powers Jobs4TN.gov twice during the first six weeks of the crisis. The last update provided enough capacity to eliminate nearly all responsiveness issues when using the site. While those upgrades were taking place, TDLWD and the site’s vendor also built three new unemployment programs provided through the CARES Act, and did so in a timeframe ahead of many other states across the country.

Our call centers experience extremely high call volume daily. At the start of the pandemic, the Department had 20 people answering phones. Today that number is approximately 400 people. We will deploy new methods to help communicate with claimants in the coming days. An enhanced virtual chat agent named Peyton will be able to answer many questions, in addition to live chat agents. With a more experienced staff available, the Department will soon start accepting voicemails from claimants. This will give them an opportunity to leave critical information about their claim so someone can look into any issues they may be experiencing.

The department is diligently working to process a small percentage of older claims that have yet to move through the system. While it is a small percentage, we know if a claimant is part of that group, the number of claims currently processing is irrelevant to them. This weighs heavily on each member of the team working to process these claims as quickly as possible. We know Tennesseans are depending on these benefits to make ends meet during this crisis. We are using new methods and technology to group common issues together, and solve them as a group, so the large numbers of claims can process at one time.

The people of this Department are not only working extremely hard, they are also invested in helping each and every Tennessean who is eligible for unemployment. We have made tremendous progress over the last two months, but we know we have much more progress to make. In order to keep up the momentum, unemployment division staff will be working and our call centers will be open on Memorial Day.

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