It’s Impossible to File for Unemployment in a Lot of States Right Now

Thousands of Americans have been laid off, but employment benefits websites are crashing.

A restaurant sits closed in the early evening in Brooklyn.
People are being laid off across the country as states order shutdowns of businesses. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

One of the most devastating peripheral effects of the coronavirus pandemic has been mass layoffs for people working in hospitality and other industries that are currently on lockdown as part of a broader effort to slow the spread of the disease. Shuttered restaurants, canceled festivals, struggling travel agencies, and other employers have been letting go of dozens to hundreds of people at a time. According to a Marist poll conducted last week, 1 in 5 working Americans reported that they or someone else in their household has been laid off or had their hours cut as a result of the pandemic.

With a tanking economy and dormant businesses offering scant job opportunities, there is now a flood of people across the country attempting to apply for unemployment benefits. States like Michigan, Maryland, and Pennsylvania are expanding their unemployment and workers’ compensation programs in order to support this growing, newly jobless population. Oregon and Washington are also considering extending unemployment benefits to parents who have to stop working to look after kids as school districts shut down. And Minnesota is expecting to process the largest request for unemployment insurance benefits in the state’s history.

However, many people attempting to access these benefits are finding that online claim portals are experiencing outages due to sharp spikes in traffic. When Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced on Monday that all bars and restaurants would be restricted to serving takeout, the state Employment Department’s Online Claims System abruptly crashed due to a surge of usage. Kentucky is also currently attempting to increase server capacity for its unemployment system, which was down as of Tuesday morning, and New York’s website crashed several times on Monday as tens of thousands of people suddenly found themselves out of work after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered restaurants, theaters, gyms, bars, and casinos to close. Local officials have been encouraging people to file their claims via phone, though there have been additional reports of operators being overwhelmed as well.

Twitter users have also been reporting frustrations with using their local unemployment benefit systems:

A review by Slate found that the Virginia Workforce Connection website for unemployment benefits also appears to be experiencing problems. After logging into the portal, the site takes you directly to a page with a notice that “This system has timed your session out.”

A page with the notification "This system has timed your session out."

It’s unclear if this problem is related to an influx of requests, but the timing is clearly horrible. Slate has reached out to the Virginia Employment Commission and will update this article if we receive a response.

Have you experienced trouble applying for unemployment benefits in recent weeks? Tell us.