25 Investigates: Mass. residents still facing issues with state’s unemployment system

LEOMINSTER, Mass. — Laid-off workers continue to struggle filing unemployment claims. As 25 investigates first reported, the state’s online system is overloaded. On Tuesday, a Leominster woman spoke with Boston 25 News. She said that for two weeks she’s been struggling just to reset her password and log in.

“I’m working one Saturday, happy, talking to my customers and then that week everything changed,” said Lorraine Kusmirek. "Everything changed in a matter of 24 hours."

The change came March 14 for Kusmirek. The coronavirus outbreak forced restaurants into a take-out-only situation. The owners of West End Diner in Leominster, like so many small businesses, were forced to lay their workers off.

On March 18, Kusmirek went online to file for unemployment; two weeks later she's still at square one.

“The system is not letting anyone change their password," she said.

Kusmirek said she had a previous unemployment claim years ago. She doesn't remember the password and has tried and tried and tried to reset it.

“This comes in your email, it’s a code to change your password with,” she said, describing the process. “Well, the code doesn’t work. “I’ve done it 50 times."

But that was just the beginning of the issues Kusmirek faced trying to remedy the issue.

“[I] attended three town halls [and] spoke to a Rep.,” she said. “They said I was a priority and I should get a call back right away. That was two weeks ago.”

And she’s not alone either.

“There’s got to be a solution for all the people that are waiting,” Kusmirek said.

25 Investigates asked the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment about the overloaded website. Since all unemployment offices in Massachusetts are closed to the public, it’s the only option for people suddenly out of work.

"Two weeks ago we had a 50-person call center working in the Division of Unemployment and Assistance, an established call center in the Hurley Building,” Gov. Baker said. “We now have a 500-person remote call center, they scaled up literally by a factor of practically 10. "

Meanwhile, Kusmirek still waits.

“All we want to do is start the process,” she said. “I understand it’s overloaded, but it’s been two weeks. That’s a long time to wait to hear back from somebody. This is really starting to affect our lives.”

Gov. Baker also said this week the state is waiting for guidance from the federal government on how to distribute new unemployment benefits from the stimulus package. He urged Massachusetts residents not to try to apply for new claims until that guidance comes.

The state said that, as of last week, it had processed 150,000 unemployment claims.

Editor’s Note: After Boston 25 News’ story ran, Lorraine Kusmirek received an email and a call from the Department of Unemployment Assistance and was successfully able to file her claim on Wednesday.

If you continue to have issues, 25 Investigates wants to hear from you.

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