The myth of the unemployment agent

Filing an unemployment claim is a pain in the neck. Filing a claim in MA is not just a pain, it’s a competitive sporting event won by endurance athletes. It’s you against all the other claimants to reach an actual person.

To file a new claim by phone, you must dial the 877 number (1-877-626-6800–I have it memorized), and listen to the lecture (“You have reached the Department of Unemployment Services. Depending on the services you require, you may be asked to call back at another time, if all agents qualified to answer your question are busy…blah blah blah”) and maneuver through the automated choices:

“If you are calling to file an extended benefit claim, press 1. If not, press 2. (Press 2.) If you are calling for unemployment insurance claim services in English, press 1. Para servicios in Espanol, marque tres. Para services in Sprekiagge [I’m pretty sure that’s what it says], mark numero cinco. (Press 1.)

“You will now hear a menu of claim services available…blah blah blah…To file a new claim or to file an extended claim for existing benefits, press 1. (Press 1) Your social security number is needed to file a claim, to identify you, to obtain wage information, for reporting your compensation to the IRS, etc., blah blah blah. Enter your nine-digit social security number now. You have entered ###-##-####. If this is correct, press 1.(Press 1)

Then you might hear something like, “Your social security number ends in 2. Today is not your day. Please call back on your day. Your day is Tuesday.”

If it is your day, (TODAY IS MY DAY…) you will hear more choices:

“Please enter the year you were born. (For example, blah blah blah). You have enterered ####. If this is correct, press 1. (Press 1.) To file a new claim, you need the names, addresses, and dates you worked for all of your employers in the last 15 months. If you worked for the federal government, or in another state, or (blah blah blah), press 1. (Wait.)

“If you are going to claim an allowance for dependent children, you may do this today by providing the names, date of birth, etc. blah blah blah. The social security number of each dependent claimed (blah blah blah) will be used in determining the eligibility (blah blah blah). Blah blah blah answer all questions completely and accurately. The law imposes fines and/or imprisonment for false statements to obtain unemployment insurance benefits. Please hold while you are transferred to an agent.”

Then you are transferred to an agent! Then: Hallelujah! It’s ringing!

But the recording says, “We regret that due to an unusually high number of calls, we will not be able to answer your call at this time. Your call is important to us. You may try your call again later today or on Friday.The hours of the Unemployment Teleclaim Center are  8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. These hours apply only to services by telephone.” Then the call hangs up on you.

This happened to me last week on Tuesday and Friday while I was in Vegas (where I stayed with family over the holidays, thanks to my parents and sister). I called again and again and again, until getting the message that the Unemployment Teleclaim Center is closed. You would think that Massachusetts would have an online system for the unemployed to file an initial claim, but they don’t.

DAMN. I really need to file this week for a new claim. My benefit amount is supposed to triple, but I can’t get through to file the claim! My nearest unemployment service office, half an hour away, is closed. I know this because I last drove there to file my previous claim four months ago, and they told me they no longer offer unemployment services. They now offer only job and training services. To be very accommodating, the busy woman behind the Job Services desk directed me to a telephone, where she gave me a super-secret special number to try and get through. It worked. (WHERE IS THIS NUMBER NOW?? I CAN’T FIND IT! I don’t think she actually gave it to me.)

But today, I go online and search for my nearest Unemployment Service Center. It’s a half an hour the opposite direction from the other office, into the crappy city of Lowell.

Here is what their website says: “Appointments will be made at the front desk every Monday at 8:30 a.m., and will continue through the week until all slots are taken. Appointments will be made on a first come, first serve basis. (Hours: Monday-Thursday 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and Fridays 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.)

We are unable to accommodate anyone without an appointment.

I refuse to believe they don’t have someone available to make your appointment by phone, but see this:

“Due to the high demand for services, no telephone appointment requests will be allowed and Unemployment Representatives at the Career Center will not accept incoming telephone calls.(You may call the above listed telephone numbers [the 877 number I can’t get through on] to discuss your claim by telphone.)<—[sic. They need an editor!]


Try not to panic, but your mortgage was due ten days ago and you can’t get through to file your unemployment claim.

“No children are allowed at the Career Center of Lowell, including the Unemployment Insurance Department. Feel free to review our Childrens Policy for more information. If you do not have child care arrangements you can call the Unemployment TeleClaim Center at (877) 626-6800 or (617) 626-6800.

“Please Note:

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, there is a possibility that even though you have an appointment, you may not be seen on the day/time/week you are scheduled for. The career Center will make every attempt to contact you to let you know if this occurs. If your appointment is cancelled, you may call the TeleClaim Center at (877) 626-6800 or (617) 626-6800 (for area codes 617 and outside of Massachusetts) between the hours of Monday thru Thursday 8:00 am – 6:00 pm and Friday 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.”

I am going to drive to this center now, in spite of the fact that I have low-paying work I should be doing. It may be a complete waste of time. I may get turned away. If so, I will have gone a second week without being able to file. I panic a little knowing that if I can’t file my new claim this week, the benefits I’m supposed to receive–the generous ones I’ve been waiting months for–the ones that are supposed to “save” me (ha ha)–may not come. I may not be able to collect them.

It’s go time! Wish me luck!