Unemployment claims going online only

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The Idaho Department of Labor is changing procedures in its 25 local offices.

According to a press release from the department, beginning July 23, all unemployment insurance claims must be filed online and questions about claims must be handled by telephone. Each local office has computer terminals in the lobby for claimants to use. The department will have 57 trained claim specialists stationed throughout the 25 local offices to handle initial claims and follow-up inquiries by telephone. Those specialists will be backed up by three dozen claim adjudicators, who will deal with disputed claims after their initial processing.

Isolating unemployment claims with these specialists will ensure more consistent application of unemployment insurance benefit principles across the board, Labor Director Roger B. Madsen said, and it will free additional staff to concentrate on connecting the unemployed and other job seekers with employers, using the myriad of tools and programs available to the department.

“During the last legislative session and as a result of numerous federal extensions of unemployment benefits, it became apparent that the unemployment insurance system continues to be under a significant amount of scrutiny at a national and state level as to its integrity and credibility,” Madsen told department staff in initiating the new procedures. “This is a proactive approach to increase the effectiveness of the unemployment insurance program and puts more people on the front line to help job seekers find new work.”

This is a shift from the department’s staff cross-training policy where all staff were capable of handling all programs but not necessarily expert in each. Now the most knowledgeable will be dedicated solely to the programs they are expert in.

The Idaho Department of Labor went from processing an average of 1,700 initial benefit claims a week in 2006 to an average of over 3,600 in 2009 as the recession’s full force was hitting the economy. More than 7,300 initial benefit claims were filed the last week of 2008.

The number of continuing claims also exploded with the authorization of federally financed extended benefits in mid-2008 and then the expansion of that program several times over the following three years. At its peak, an average of over 43,000 workers a week received benefits in 2010 and more than 61,000 got benefits the second week of January that year. In 2006, the weekly average was 8,800. Weekly benefit payments slipped below 20,000 in June for the first time since November 2008.

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