Last summer, faced with a $3 million cut in federal aid, Rhode Island's labor department laid off 67 workers, including about one-third of the 150 people at the call center. Telephone wait times jumped to more than two hours, according to the union representing the laid-off workers.

While the automated phone and online system takes claim information from people filing for benefits, it's up to state workers to process and approve the claims. When too many people call in at once, the phone system becomes overwhelmed.

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