JEFFERSON CITY – As unemployment numbers continue to rise in Missouri, the state’s Division of Employment Security (DES) introduced a virtual assistant to help with call volume.
Delores Rose, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the unemployment office is getting more than 100,000 calls and emails everyday, and that it is struggling to meet that demand.
“With our new call paths available, about 10,000 calls are answered each day by a specialist or auto messaging,” she said.
Elizabeth Akers is one of the 100,000 people trying to speak to someone in the unemployment office.
“If I ever get through on the phone, I’m going to go get a lottery ticket, because it’s my lucky day,” she said.
That’s what the virtual assistant will hopefully help.
Rose said the new virtual assistant feature was already in the works, but the department released it sooner due to the “recent rise in unemployment claims.”
“The virtual assistant is designed specifically to assist in answering unemployment questions by simply clicking on the icon and typing in a question,” according to a news release.
Akers said she tried using the website and the virtual assistant tool to get her questions answered, but said she has a situation that requires her to talk to a real person.
She said she has a “unique work situation with a combination of self-employment (1099) and regular employment (W2), which there was not a way to accurately report on the website.”
Akers said she “provides occupational therapy services for students” as an independent contractor. She said she is also a P.R.N. at a therapy company, which means she works “as needed.”
Last week alone, 101,722 people filed unemployment claims in the state, according to the Missouri Department of Labor. That means more than 300,000 Missourians have filed since the middle of March.
Akers is not the only one trying to get help.
People have left comments on the department’s Facebook page, complaining of long wait times. Some people said they have waited weeks without ever talking to anyone on the phone.
“I’m not holding them at fault,” Akers said. “Who could’ve imagined this would happen? I know all the changes take a lot of time. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of time.”
The department is encouraging people to use its website and the new virtual assistant as much as possible, as opposed to calling in with questions.
“With the unprecedented volume of calls and emails the DES [Department of Employment Security] is currently receiving, the chatbot will provide answers more efficiently,” the news release said. “The DES encourages the use of the virtual assistant, as well as taking advantage of up-to-date information on federal unemployment programs and answers to frequently asked questions.”
For more information, visit labor.mo.gov/coronavirus.