Brittney Martel visits the King Family Library in Sevierville weekly to job search and check on her unemployment status claim after she was laid off nearly two months ago.
Logging on to her account is discouraging, because it says her unemployment status claim is in progress. In fact, it's been in progress for seven weeks.
"It’s pretty much just a standstill. Nobody knows what’s going on. There’s no hope in sight for ever receiving this," Martel said with frustration.
Her application is one of 1,607 stuck in a backlog that started last summer after the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development switched their online unemployment system.
"Who is supposed to be looking out for us?" Martel asked.
The state has been working to clear the backlog, a jam that had more than 6,000 unprocessed claims at one point.
"We’ve really made some tremendous progress over the last six weeks and the number of claims in the backlog has dropped to the lowest point since the backlog started, so we really are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel right now," said Chris Cannon, a department spokesperson.
He said the system has been working, but it hasn’t been working as efficiently as they wanted.
"Right now, the agents are going through and clearing out the oldest claims that are still left in the system while new claims are coming in," Cannon said.
The agents working to clear the logs are doing so at an average of 20 days per claim, but they still are not meeting a federal mandate that requires 87 percent of claims to be processed within 21 days.
"We’ve been well below that for the last several months," Cannon admitted.
As they work toward meeting that federal mandate, lawmakers like state Rep. Dale Carr, who represents part of Sevier County, are taking action.
“We put a deadline on it with the (Labor and Workforce Development) commissioner that it had to be completed," Carr told WBIR 10News.
Carr is faithful the process will speed up and stay in place, especially for the roughly 1,200 people who lost their jobs from the deadly fires in Sevier County.
State leaders have also asked the department for biweekly reports to monitor their progress. If the issue doesn't improve then they plan to call a special hearing to investigate the matter further.
Cannon said the claims from the fires did not add to the backlog because they were designated as disaster claims and were paid out quickly.
But there are still people like Martel who have been waiting weeks.
“I’ve heard people have waited 16 weeks, 4 months, 5 months," Martel said.
Cannon told 10News that will not be the case much longer. The department plans to have the backlog cleared within weeks.
"When you are the first to do it you are going to hit some potholes along the way and we hit some very deep potholes and we’ve filled those potholes and we are moving forward and in just a few weeks this system will be one of the best in the nation," Cannon said.
If you are waiting for your unemployment benefits and it has been more than 21 days since you applied, you can call 1-800-224-5818. Press the number '1' twice to speak to a representative.