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A life on hold; Man's quest for jobless check frustrating.

Byline: Aaron Nicodemus

MARLBORO - H. Eric Theis Jr. recently found himself caught in voice mail hell, a modern-day punishment that could have been included in one of the circles of hell from Dante's "Inferno."

Formerly a middle manager at a computer company, Mr. Theis was laid off from his job last October. He collected unemployment until he took a one-month consulting job in December. Upon completing the contract, he reapplied for unemployment. The checks came almost immediately.

Then, on Feb. 9, the checks stopped coming. He called the unemployment office and

was told there was a problem and he needed to call the adjudicator, who is responsible for determining whether the state will pay or deny an unemployment claim. When he called the adjudicator, voice mail picked up and told him to leave a message.

But voice mail was full, and so Mr. Theis could not leave a message.

You can guess what they told him to do when he called the unemployment office: Call the adjudicator.

"I understand busy, I understand understaffed. But I do not understand `rude,' which is the vmail maze and the full mailboxes, redirecting people, not helping, especially from civil servants who are there to serve," he wrote in an e-mail recently.

As of this week, Mr. Theis still had not gotten an answer about what the problem is with his unemployment application. Perhaps the month of contract work is throwing a wrench in the works, he guessed. Or perhaps the out-of-state employer that hired him for a month is not responding to the adjudicator's requests for information.

What Mr. Theis knows is that he's going on eight weeks without an unemployment check, that he does not know what's wrong, and that he cannot get an answer. Or even leave a voice mail.

"What I'm really upset about is that I have no resource," he said recently over a weekly breakfast he shares with his fellow Masons at the Masonic hall in downtown Marlboro. "What do I do?"

In January, the Telegram & Gazette published a story about how some people were waiting 10 weeks or more to receive their unemployment check. State officials said they were hiring more call center workers to reduce the backlog and release unemployment checks.

In February, statewide unemployment rose to 7.8 percent from 7.4 percent in January and 4.6 percent in February 2008, part of a continuing trend of job losses.

After the Telegram & Gazette described Mr. Theis's situation to a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, his case worker called. As of this week, though, Mr. Theis was still waiting for an answer about his unemployment claim.

"That's the kind of thing we're trying to avoid," said Edward T. Malmborg, director of the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance, upon hearing the story. "We don't want people to call and leave a voice mail."

He said the most likely explanation is that the adjudicator was on the telephone when Mr. Theis called, handling another claim. The adjudicator likely tried to reach Mr. Theis, failed, and moved on to the next case.

"Our adjudicators are on the telephone all the time," he said. "It's an ongoing cycle to get these cases out."

Mr. Malmborg said the division has more than doubled its work force at

call centers, from 70 people last summer to 170 now. The division wants to have 220 call center employees in place by May. He said the current waiting time for someone on hold is 12 minutes.

"It does take time to work some of these issues out. They need to be patient," Mr. Malmborg said.

He did offer this lifeline to people

waiting 10 or more weeks for their unemployment check: Send an e-mail to webmaster@detma.org with your name and date of birth. Be sure to mention how long you've been waiting, and someone will get back to you.

He promised.

Contact Aaron Nicodemus by e-mail at anicodemus@telegram.com.

ART: PHOTO; CHART

PHOTOG: (P) T&G Staff/DAN GOULD; (C) T&G Staff/DON LANDGREN JR.

CUTLINE: (P) H. Eric Theis Jr. of Marlboro is still awaiting an answer about his unemployment claim. (C) Unemployment rate
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Title Annotation:MONEY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 2, 2009
Words:700
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