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Frustrated by unemployment system? Try these tips

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

If you’re one of thousands of frustrated New Mexicans trying to file or have filed for an unemployment claim and have yet to start receiving money, the head of the state Department of Workforce Solutions has some suggestions that might help.

New Mexico Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at a news conference in March. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Among them: Call toward the end of the week, make sure you are recertifying your claim weekly and please, please – don’t forget your online password.

Last week, department secretary Bill McCamley chatted with the Journal for a video, answering a wide range of questions submitted by the public and reporters about how his agency is handling the flood of unemployment claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the interview, McCamley acknowledged the frustration many are feeling and offered suggestions on how best to navigate the system.

All who can use the internet should

While many New Mexicans lack access to broadband internet, those with access should go to www.dws.state.nm.us to file a claim.

“It’s going to be better for you, it’s going to be better for us, and it’s going to leave those phone lines open for those people who maybe don’t have the web capability,” McCamley said.

Take advantage of tools already in place

⋄ A dedicated COVID-19-specific “Frequently Asked Questions” page.

⋄ A how-to YouTube video that walks applicants through each step of the process.

⋄ An automated “chat bot” that answers broad user questions.

Only call if absolutely necessary

The goal is to get answers for as many applicants as possible online without tying up the department’s phone lines unnecessarily – including with calls from people who did the application correctly and call to be assured of that.

“We’ve put a lot of effort to make sure that our website is robust and working,” McCamley said.

If you must call, try to avoid Mondays

For those who can’t accomplish what they need to online, the workforce agency unemployment hotline is 1-877-664-6984.

The agency is asking New Mexicans to call on different days based on the last digit of their Social Security number:

Monday: SSN ending in 0, 1, 2 or 3

Tuesday: SSN ending in 4, 5 or 6

Wednesday: SSN ending in 7, 8 or 9

Thursday and Friday: Anyone who didn’t get through earlier in the week.

But the busiest day, by far, is Monday. If you can’t get through on your correct day, you may have better luck on Thursday and Friday.

File weekly certifications – every week

McCamley said more than 4,600 New Mexicans in the system could be receiving benefits right now, but they aren’t because they aren’t filing weekly certifications. For applicants who haven’t received unemployment benefits and aren’t sure why, McCamley recommended making sure their weekly certifications are up to date.

Answer that 877 number that’s calling you

Be prepared to answer calls you might otherwise reject. State unemployment workers will sometimes call applicants to clarify information. The call comes from a number with an 877 area code, which can sometimes result in the call being marked as spam.

“Please try to pick it up and answer, because that may be our office trying to get in touch with you proactively to fix your issue,” McCamley said.

Do NOT lose your password

Remember your password, or write it down, or risk slowing down the whole process.

Applicants who forget their passwords have three tries to get it right before the system locks them out.

If you do get locked out, use email links

Security measures make password resets finicky on the state site.

If you do have to have your password reset, just use the links in the reset email to get to the right site – don’t copy and paste those into a new browser or window.

Ditto for the temporary password. McCamley said the best method isn’t copy-and-paste – you should write the password down and retype it into the indicated field.

More features coming soon

McCamley said more changes are in the works to streamline the process:

⋄ The department is looking to get its last batch of new trainees, largely from other state departments, on the phones by this coming week.

⋄ From there, the agency will look at adding a new “live chat” feature on its website, where applicants can communicate with a department staffer. McCamley said this should help connect applicants with experts who can handle specific technical questions.

“That’s a way for a lot of people to get some pretty efficient information,” he said.

⋄ As the economy starts to reopen, the workforce department is working with other state agencies to draft a list of rules and regulations for employers and employees to follow. He said he expects these rules to come out in the next several days.

Who should apply for unemployment?

The CARES Act has expanded the categories of workers who are eligible for unemployment. It added part-time workers, independent contractors and gig workers to the eligible categories, and it covers most of those who have had their hours cut, or been furloughed or laid off. The CARES Act also provides $600 in weekly benefits for anyone who qualifies for state unemployment.

But if someone still has a source of income that pays more than $461 a week, they do not qualify for state or CARES Act unemployment.

And those who choose to leave their job – and are not laid off – do not qualify unless they can prove “good cause.” In addition, those who are offered their jobs back but do no take them do not qualify for unemployment.

McCamley warned that those who purposely game the system are committing fraud and could face consequences.

Be patient, thousands are getting their checks

Of the more than 141,000 New Mexicans who have successfully filed initial unemployment claims since March 15, McCamley said, more than 60% are now receiving payments. The remainder fall into the following categories:

⋄ 22,896 (16.1%) of the claims were too new to be receiving funding as of Thursday.

⋄ 12,405 (8.8%) are awaiting adjudication by the workforce department.

⋄ 12,500 (8.9%) were deemed ineligible for state benefits.

⋄ 4,624 (3.2%) could be getting money, but haven’t provided a weekly certification.

⋄ 2,922 (about 2.4%) require additional information from the applicant, or have been denied.

Despite doubling the number of phone lines and tripling the number of people manning the phones, the system is still swamped. Many of those taking the calls have volunteered for this assignment and many are working overtime.

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