By Martha Waggoner
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Unemployment is up so much in North Carolina that the state's Internet site for benefits crashed twice this week under a rush of claims.
Once the system was back up, the state set one-day records both for the amount of unemployment benefits paid and for the number of transactions, officials said Tuesday.
The number of people trying to sign up online for new or continuing benefits was as much as triple pre-recession levels Sunday and Monday, the Employment Security Commission said. That volume, together with a phone line problem, overwhelmed the agency's computers and prevented some people from filing claims.
The system was working again by Monday afternoon after the ESC added another server and demand lessened, said ESC spokesman Andy James.
On Monday, the state paid more than $31.5 million in unemployment insurance benefits and handled more than 106,000 transactions — both one-day records, James said. The previous records weren't immediately available, but James said the Web site might have gotten 23,000 hits on a busy day 18 months ago.
The phone line problem was fixed Sunday, when 74,000 people tried to access the system, and the ESC thought the overload problem had been handled as well. But the system failed again Monday when about 55,000 people tried to file.
Mark Turner, who was laid off in November as a company support manager but has since landed a six-month contract job, said he spent hours Sunday night trying to access the system unsuccessfully.
"It's a bad sign for North Carolina's economy when you've got so many people trying to get into the system and it crashes," he said.
The recession has pushed the jobless rate in North Carolina to 7.9 percent in November, the last month for which figures are available. That was the highest since October 1983.
The ESC said payment will be delayed about a day to people who couldn't file Sunday. People who couldn't access the system Monday had until 9 p.m. Monday to get their payment the same day they normally would.
North Carolina's ESC has about 300,000 people in its unemployment system and pays about $33 million a week in benefits.