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“I CRY OVER THIS” — “Frustrated” & “Helpless” TN Leg Assistants Discuss TN’s UNEMPLOYMENT NIGHTMARES Crisis

As we and many others have reported, thousands of Tennesseans have been unable to access unemployment even since the beginning of the pandemic. The stories have been nothing short of heartbreaking.

The Holler has obtained emails from assistants at the Tennessee legislature where they discuss the “helpless” and “frustrated” feelings of not being able to help their constituents.

The emails are below. We’ve removed their names and identifying phrases to protect their anonymity.

This is an awful situation, and did not have to happen. Tennessee and Governor Lee have had plenty of time to fix this. The time for excuses has long since passed.

From:
Sent:
To: Staff
Subject: unemployment

Hey guys, I’ve hesitated to send out an email regarding unemployment issues, but I’ve talked to several assistants who are more than frustrated as I am, that more isn’t being done.  Some of our constituents have been told there is a glitch in the system, but that was two months ago.  Is there still a glitch in the system?  If so, why?  I know I, as has everyone here, spoken to so many broken people, from some losing their businesses, to going to a food bank for food for the first time in their lives, and they want answers, too.

Is anyone getting their claims done in a timely manner?  If so, I would love to know your secret.  We have addressed these concerns to some in the Administration, and we’ve been placated for a time being or not answered at all.  Are any of you experiencing the same thing?

I understand they hired more people, but just to answer phones and tell folks they just have to wait, which is no help at all.  If any of you have any suggestions or ideas to share on how to get a better response or any response at all from the department, I would love to know them.  In my 35 years up here, I haven’t seen it so bad that we can’t even get an acknowledgement of our requests and a sincere pledge to fix what is wrong.

Since we can’t mingle as we used to and see one another, this is the only way I know to get a feeling of how everyone is doing with this.  Thanks for listening even if you don’t have an answer.

 

From: 
Date: 
To: 
Subject: RE: unemployment

I have no secret or tips to give.  My cases are just like yours.  All over the place with no rhyme nor reason as to why one is being paid before another. I know some cases are more difficult, but I haven’t seen that as a factor as some hard cases are getting paid, and some standard cases are not.

I did let the Gov’s office know that we do not consistently get a confirmation email, so when the person calls back to say they haven’t heard anything, I have no choice but to file a new ticket as I do not have an email to respond to or a number to call or anything.

I’m feeling pretty useless, too.

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: Re: unemployment

I also have so secrets, but I can build off of what — said:

Putting in multiple tickets: “Please remember that submitting multiple tickets for a constituent doesn’t speed up the process, but instead slows it down for the others who are waiting for a call. I see that there have been three different tickets opened up for him and that two of those came after he had been in contact with the department.”

Anytime I have a question about multiple tickets I email __ with an update, even though I get a response days later. When submitting tickets you can see a green confirmation email then it has been submitted. The only issues I have seen is if you don’t have SSN then it doesn’t submit properly, so I change it to 1234, or 4321.

I also use consistent messaging for every unemployment issue that helps:

We have submitted a request in to have someone contact you. Granted they are receiving 100’s of requests a day, so it could take a while. On average, all of the claims are being responded to in 10 – 14 business days. If you have not received any communication in 10 days, please call the office at 615-741-1000 and we will see if we know more information.

Someone from the unemployment office will be contacting you, so please answer unknown numbers. You will also receive an email from legislative request that will recap your claim. Responding to that email will allow the unemployment office and myself see, so if you see anything you would like to add or change.

Just a reminder, it is not worth your time to be placed on hold and calling the unemployment office, the quickest response is by having me put in a ticket for you. Lastly, submitting multiple tickets (especially with multiple people) will delay your response, so please be patient. I promise, someone is working on it.

I use consistent messaging so that they stop reaching out to different offices to try and get different responses.

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: RE: unemployment

Hello all, this is just a little to add to some of what everyone else is dealing with:

When I do get a call, I ask if that person has contacted another legislator and advise them creating multiple tickets will not help- I inquire if they have continued to recertify weekly and I advise them to keep their cell phone with them at all times and answer any unknown numbers. I also ask if they have submitted all their wage information and make sure they follow up and be sure the department has all the documents they need to process the claim.  It appears that many cases that were submitted in mid -April for some reason seemed to have more issues than some of the others and  I also seem to have more issues with small business operators for some reasons- such as more calls related to hair dressers and the like and I’m not sure why.

As for the ones who are concerned about losing their homes, utilities getting cut off, etc- I remind them that many lenders made pledges during this crisis that they would not foreclose and many would not charge late charges. I have found that the companies will not offer this service but if the constituent reaches out and asks for more assistance, usually they will receive that. I have offered to contact lenders or landlords on their behalf, contacted utility companies for them, I have loaned one family money because they did not even have enough money for gas or groceries and they had small children- we have offered to pick up food boxes for families, and at one point I even reached out to the department and offered to take an hour or two out of my day to pitch and help them submit claims if needed.  I have not heard back from our liaison of the department at all.

I think we all understand we have more claims than ever and the Department is very busy.  At this point though, it is extremely frustrating when, like some of you, I have families who filed in March and to date still have not received anything. I have some whose legislative tickets went in four to six weeks ago and that constituent still hasn’t received a phone call. Sometimes we get a confirmation email and sometimes we don’t.  It is very embarrassing to not be able to answer any of their questions and not to be able to give them a date when someone might call them back.  Also, I have real concerns since this is an election year that our members are going to get out on the campaign trail and they may lose because the constituents feel like we have not been able to represent them very well, despite our diligence and multiple attempts to do so.

If anyone needs any resources that are helpful, let me know and I’m happy to try to share some if I have them.

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: RE: unemployment

My apologies-  I meant to send this from my email, not Rep. ____. To add a little more to some of the notes though…

We are also dealing with many cases that might receive one-two weeks of unemployment and then for some reason we are finding cases closed before resolution.

We also are having more problems with self-employed claims.

Also, we have a great deal of constituents who may have made an initial mistake in entering their claim during the “glitch in the system” era, who may just have a simple question but they are unable to reach anyone to help them navigate through the process.

Thanks to everyone for the input. It is very much appreciated.

Everyone hang in there. Hopefully we will all get through this together.  Hugs to all.

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: Re: unemployment

​For some of my constituents that are down to their last dime, I suggest they call a local church (food pantry) or the Am. Red Cross.

I had one constituent sing her song sad song: “Well, it’s not that.”  Okay, another suggestion, “Well, it’s not that.”  After about 3 more suggestions, I suggested that it might be time for her to find a job at the grocery until her permanent job returns.  “Well, I can’t do that.”  As suspected, she wanted me to do all the work for her and she wanted me to give her a hand-out.  After the grocery suggestion, the daily (sometimes multiples in a day) ceased.

My heart breaks for a lot of these constituents and I have only had one like this but sometimes it just takes one.

I look forward to seeing you all soon!

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: RE: unemployment

OMG.  NONE of the “sad songs” I’ve heard have been anything less than heartbreaking. I cry over this sometimes.  Wow. Just wow.

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: RE: unemployment

I agree. Sometimes I don’t want to answer the phone because I know it’s one more single mother being evicted or a single father going to the food bank for the first time in his life or a man selling all his tools of his trade to make ends meet.  And I’ve had a few who’ve had their electricity cut off.  I’ve referred them to everyone I know and even sent a Kroger gift card to one gentleman.  I can’t do that for everyone of course, and I know some others who’ve done the same thing up here.  And then I feel guilty and blessed because I have a job during this horrible time, as well.  I’ve only had one constituent out of a hundred or more who has lied to me that I know of, even so, I still trust as I know all of you do.

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: Re: unemployment

​I’ve received several emails this morning stating that constituents received a call that rang once, hung up, and then had a generic “Hello, I attempted to call you and no one answered. Our specialist team will reach out and try to call you again very soon” email sent to them. This concerns me greatly because this counts as one of the agent’s 3 attempts to reach our constituents. Something must be done about this “one ring/hangup” approach because I’m hearing the same story too often for it to be a coincidence.

Is anyone else having this problem – or are my constituent cases the only ones who are being treated this way?

Thank you!

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: RE: unemployment

I’ve had several tell me their phone never rang and there was no evidence of a call on their call history.

 

From:
Sent:
To:
Subject: Re: unemployment

​YES! That as well. I don’t understand why this is happening.

 

From: 

Subject: RE: unemployment

Date: 

To: 

I’ve had several say the same. I tell them that if they send you an email to respond back to the email with a good time to reach them. I don’t know if that works but I email zendesk back with the time that the constituent has given me is a good time. That way we are on the same page.