25 Investigates: Mass. unemployment site hasn’t crashed, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing either

BOSTON — As cities and towns across Massachusetts sit still, residents facing sudden unemployment are struggling to get help.

We asked residents frustrated with the process to explain it in their own words.

“So here’s the issue, I get the following error message when I try to reset my password, it says, ‘your account does not meet requirement for password reset,’” Sean McElroy told Boston 25 News.

We have heard the same website complaints since the COVID-19 crisis began.

“I’ve been trying to apply to unemployment since March 20th,” said Charles Pierce of Holbrook.

“I’ve been trying for two weeks to change a forgotten password so I may file my claim,” Danielle Thompson echoed.

The Massachusetts Office of Unemployment Assistance says it ramped up a 50-person staff to more than 600 to deal with the influx of calls.

“I filled out all the forms. Three weeks and still nothing,” Susan Brunke said. “I just want to know why I can’t speak to a real, live human being at the Mass. Unemployment Office.”

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Since March 23, they have made over 60,000 callbacks to constituents and are now making over 6,000 calls a day, according to state data.

”It’s been two weeks, 75 messages I left,’ said Sue Bruno of Melrose.

The office tells 25 Investigates it just installed a password fix to the site Tuesday night. In addition, they say the Massachusetts site has never crashed during the crisis.

“I keep getting all the errors from the Massachusetts unemployment website,” said Steve Sprague of Milford.

Tens of thousands have been able to file and the numbers are unprecedented.

  • The week of March 15: more than 148,000 people filed for unemployment.
  • The week of March 22: more than 180,000.
  • The week of March 29: almost 140,000.

“I’m able to claim every week, but the payment is saying it’s on hold and I cannot get through to anybody,” Blossom Johnson said. “I left several messages to get called back and still haven’t heard anything from them.”

April brought about a new complaint. For some, the money isn't coming in.

“I’ve been waiting for my unemployment for about three weeks now,” Jorge Felix said. “And it still says pending.”

Those who are self-employed finally got word Thursday the office is working on a platform for the site to apply to new federal benefits.

“I’m facing financial insecurities that are mounting daily,” Megan Lawrence said. "I am seeking and following closely the developments regarding unemployment assistance for independent workers, the self-employed 1099 filers.”

The Office of Unemployment Assistance says other states' websites have crashed, forcing those states to revert to paper applications.

“It’s like having an ocean full of life rafts three feet away constantly. We need help people are drowning,” Brunke said.

They say Massachusetts was the first state in the country to move its unemployment website to the cloud.

“I’ve been waiting for a phone call from the UA (office of Unemployment Assistance) for three weeks now to file for unemployment,” said Hector Silva of East Boston.

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