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Jobless Wait Up to Two Months for Unemployment Checks

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(Memphis) Workers across the Mid-South are still getting pink slipped, and finding another job is a tough task in this economy.

Unemployment benefits are designed to help tide people over until they find something else, problem is, some folks aren't getting their checks on time.

Having worked her entire adult life, Cynthia Green, she was forced to turn to the Department of Labor for benefits after being fired from her job in June.

"I filed for unemployment on 7/13 of 2012," says Green.

Since then, she's been waiting.

She says she hasn't gotten, "Any letters, denials, it's been over a month."  It's why she's visiting the local, unemployment office.

"I wanna know when my benefits are gonna start, am I gonna receive any benefits, when can I expect some money?"

Green isn't the only one asking that question.  We got an email from someone who said "...the state of Tennessee is currently taking anywhere from 6+ weeks to process an unemployment claim."  The viewer says she filed her claim in June and has yet to "receive a single check"

WREG On Your Side Investigators contacted the labor department for answers.

A spokesperson confirmed what normally takes about three weeks, is taking six to eight for some clients. The reason, phone calls.

"When I called, they immediately said, it's gonna be an hour and a half wait, 90 minutes," exclaims Tina Hedleston who was visiting the unemployment office in Memphis after not being able to get through on the phone in Nashville for her weekly re-certification.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development partly blames the additional call volume on higher unemployment and additional requirements for federal extensions. 

Communications Director Jeff Hentschel says in addition to calls for initial claims,  two, federal extensions were phased out recently, which led to more calls from recipients who were left without benefits. 

Also, those left on remaining, federal extensions are now required to document their work searches at area Career Centers. 

When they don't, their benefits get cut off, which Hentschel says also leads to more calls.

"Last month we had 900,000 calls, people trying to get through our phone lines and there just aren't enough people or enough phone lines to deal with that kind of volume," says Hentschel.

Hentschel says the same 75 workers answer the phones and process claims. "That translates into people not getting the service that they need and that delays people's ability to file and get a check in a timely manner."

So what's being done to rectify the problem? Hentschel says the labor department is hiring 50 new workers and turning to technology.

"We're gonna have chat rooms in which our interviewers are gonna answer two and three questions at the same time, and we're also looking at the possibility, as other states have done, of filing only on the internet," Hentschel says.

Which would leave phone lines only open for clients with problems and general questions. Until the fix, folks like Green are stuck waiting, something the bills don't do.

"How do you make ends meet in between," I ask?  "Ooh, it's hard, very hard, friends, family, it's very hard," says Green.

By the way, when we met Green, she'd been waiting three and a half hours at the local unemployment office for help.  Hentschel says, if you've already filed and are waiting on your first check, go online to verify your status.

If it states that it's "pending," calling likely won't get you a different answer.  Meanwhile, if you do need to call to troubleshoot a problem, avoid Mondays and Tuesdays and call early to get in que.

Hentschel says they've estimated only around 20% of claims are taking six to eight weeks.  He says those recipients will receive a larger, first check to cover any missed benefits.