Vermonters seeking unemployment face clogged phone lines, slow website

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) As Vermont's restaurant and hospitality industries scale back or close their doors to slow the spread of the coronavirus, thousands are filing for unemployment and the Department of Labor is trying to handle the influx.

Ryan Denno worked at Butler's Pantry in Stowe. But like thousands of others, he's been left jobless after the restaurant closed because of the coronavirus.

"I called from 8:30 until 3:30 in the afternoon and I never got through," said Denno, who is among the flood of Vermonters trying to get through to the Department of Labor's phone lines and website looking to apply for unemployment.

As bills, taxes and other expenses pile up, many are searching for answers.

"You can have the best plans in place, but at the end of the day it comes down to people taking claims over the phone and our ability to ramp that up as quickly as possible," said Interim Vt. Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington.

He says the state's success story of low unemployment is now hurting it, because they don't have the staff to deal with the influx. Labor officials are now working to triple the amount of workers taking unemployment claims, but they are also struggling with a decades-old computer system.

"If you aren't able to get through, just recognize that our switchboard is completely overloaded. Just be patient, continue and keep trying," Harrington advises.

He says the timing of when recipients apply won't hurt their chances for eligibility, the benefits, or the timing of the disbursement.

But for thousands like Denno, who have car, house and other payments, they're stuck in limbo waiting for the state to catch up. "It's really scary being an owner of multiple things that don't include that relief -- rent so on and so forth -- so, it's kind of scary," he said.

Harrington says he's not concerned about the state's trust fund and how many benefits will be available. The state and federal government are working on measures in the coming weeks to provide relief.