A few lawmakers and others on Friday leveled blistering criticism at the Department of Workforce Solutions, saying some unemployed New Mexicans are spending hours on the telephone waiting for help.
Secretary Celina Bussey told the Senate Public Affairs Committee that New Mexicans seeking assistance from the department could expect to wait anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours “depending on the complexity of the claim.”
But she said the system is working, with about 26,000 jobless people currently certifying for benefits and getting them.
The fact that “thousands and thousands and thousands of people every day access that system, complete their transactions and are paid timely” indicates that the processes work, she said.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, read an email from a constituent who said he spent five hours on hold only to be told Workforce Solutions couldn’t confirm whether it had received documentation he had sent.
Candelaria said the unemployment insurance system should be fair and navigable, and that such waits are degrading and disrespectful.
“There are people who are waiting four or five hours just to get their foot in the door. … I’m of the viewpoint that when there’s a problem you fix it, you don’t explain it away,” he said.
The Public Affairs Committee meeting was held specifically to discuss Workforce Solutions; no legislation was under consideration.
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, who is not on the committee but attended the session, said the same concerns were expressed last year and the problems haven’t been cleared up.
She questioned whether Bussey is “truly connected to the reality of what clients and applicants are going through.”
Timothy Hasson, a lawyer with New Mexico Legal Aid, said it was “outrageous” that his poor clients are expected to sit on the phone for hours.
Workforce Solutions brought a new computer system online in January for use by both claimants and employers. At the same time, federal jobless benefits for the longtime unemployed were extended, requiring them to recertify by phoning the department. Coincidentally, Bussey said, a banking error delayed payments.
Over just a couple of days, the volume of calls blew up to 182,000.
Bussey said the call volume has decreased by the week — it was down to 24,750 on Monday, typically the busiest day of the week — and the new system “brings enormous benefits to all of our customers.”
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal