CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A WCNC Charlotte Defenders investigation is revealing a long list of technical problems with North Carolina’s unemployment system — everything from computer glitches to incorrect payments.
Public records show the North Carolina Department of Commerce made dozens of work orders to fix the problems. It comes as people say they’ve struggled to access their own accounts.
Sophie Shamsiddeen and Verna Huntley-Alexander said they faced delays accessing their accounts because of computer issues with the unemployment system.
“The website went down,” Huntley-Alexander said. “I cannot access my account.”
“There was a system glitch,” Shamsiddeen said.
The Defenders team also waited a long time for the North Carolina Department of Commerce to release public records that shed light on the problem.
In the critical months between March and May, documents show the department submitted more than 30 work orders to fix computer errors or IT issues with the unemployment system.
“It’s very frustrating,” Huntley-Alexander said. “It leaves you almost at a point of despair.”
“I’ve had many many, many breakdowns,” said Shamsiddeen.
Huntley-Alexander, who was furloughed from a part-time job at a non-profit, exhausted her regular unemployment benefits in June. She then applied for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, but by July hadn’t received payment.
Instead, she tells WCNC Charlotte she got a message on her account saying the system would be down from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. She said she saw that same message no matter what time of day she checked.
“I get that same screen,” Huntley-Alexander said. “It’s been down all week.”
Shamsiddeen shared a screenshot of a different problem with her account.
“I kept receiving an error every time I attempted to apply for the PUA,” said Shamsiddeen.
The Defenders team found a wide range of errors in the public records, which took more than three months for the Department of Commerce to release. A spokesman said the delay was due to security screenings.
When the records were finally released, all but a line or two was redacted from each work order. The document described everything from “very slow or no response time” to “PUA requiring claimants to certify old weeks."
In one case, records stated “$600 released incorrectly to claimant”.
“It needs to be fixed,” said Shamsiddeen.
“They need to get on top of their IT problems and they need to transparent,” said Huntley-Alexander.
After the Defenders team reached out to the Department of Commerce about Huntley Alexander’s claim, she quickly saw progress with her unemployment account.
“Someone contacted me the very next day," Huntley-Alexander said.
Then a day later, she saw the money she’d been waiting a month for appear in her account.
“It was amazing to have that kind of turnaround," Huntley-Alexander said. “It just lets you know it can be done.”
On the other hand, Shamsiddeen received a letter denying her benefits saying her job was not due to COVID-19, even though she says she was laid off as a hostess as a direct result of the pandemic.
“How are you denying people in the middle of a crisis, a pandemic?” Shamsiddeen questioned.
Now, Shamsiddeen has appealed the decision.
She said the state has not given her a timeline about when her appeal will be heard, but she’s already been waiting several months for her benefits.
The Defenders team reached out to the Department of Commerce multiple times for a statement in response to the computer problems and what they’re doing to improve the system, but at this point, they have not responded.