As job losses sparked by the coronavirus pandemic pile up, a troubling scenario is playing out across the country. People who turn to their state websites to file for unemployment benefits are unable to access services because the rush of visitors is causing systems to crash. Here are a few recent examples:
- New York: The state’s website has been crashing on and off, according to a number of local media reports and angry tweets. The NYS Department of Labor took to its Facebook page yesterday to ask people to stagger their claims alphabetically, filing them on different days of the week depending the first letter of their last name.
- Oregon: The state website for the Employment Department crashed on Monday afternoon shortly after Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, announced the closure of bars and restaurants due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Eugene’s Register-Guard newspaper.
- Colorado: The server for the Department of Labor and Employment crashed yesterday after a reportedly “unprecedented” spike in new unemployment claims. A spokesperson told Denver’s Fox affiliate that the state saw 6,800 applications by 10 a.m.
- Kentucky: The unemployment benefits website was only working intermittently after an executive order by Kentucky’s governor, Andy Beshear, made it easier to claim benefits in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. A spokesperson told WDBR, “We are obviously experiencing higher volume within our systems.”
The incidents underscore not only the mass scale of layoffs that are underway as COVID-19 decimates industries from tourism to hospitality, but also how ill-equipped many states are to handle the influx of unemployed workers seeking benefits. State officials often urge people to file for claims online to avoid long lines at the unemployment office, but that advice doesn’t do much good if the websites don’t work the way they should.
And most don’t. In 2018, a review of 400 state government websites by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank, found that just about all of them were woefully outdated, inefficient, and just plain slow.