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Hawaii unemployment assistance center is flooded with calls

HONOLULU (AP) — A new call center fielding Hawaii unemployment claim questions is receiving about 150,000 calls per day, overwhelming operators attempting to assist residents who wait for several hours or fail to get through.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said the center receives about 18,000 calls per hour, or 300 per minute, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The service operated by private contractor Maximus Inc. opened Sept. 30 under a $4.9 million state contract using federal coronavirus relief funding.

The call center operating Monday through Friday opened with 50 workers answering phones from outside Hawaii. Another 70 call center agents outside of the state were added Oct. 5. A third phase of 80 workers based in Hawaii is expected to begin next week and bring the operation to a full contingent of 200 operators.

Maximus estimates about 8,000 different people call daily. The average length of calls with agents has been 30 minutes.

“Two hundred agents is nothing for 8,000 calls a day,” Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Anne Eustaquio said.

Frustrated claimants using computer and phone software repeatedly redialed in attempts to reach agents. The flurry of automated calls initially crashed the phone system, and many callers waited on hold and then became disconnected, Eustaquio said.

Maximus has made adjustments to deflect robocall software from crashing or joining the queue, which was limited to 100 people beginning Monday, Eustaquio said.

“It has been a little slow going,” Eustaquio said.

From March through Sept. 24, the labor department received nearly 295,000 unemployment claims.

Some callers contact the center with disputed claims, which Eustaquio said adds to the overload.

Operators assist with a range of issues including backdating claims and properly completing forms. But they do not process claims or adjudicate disputed claims.

In addition to the call center operation contract through the end of the year, Maximus has a $2.7 million contract to add 100 claim adjudicators who are expected to begin next week and relieve demand on the center.

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