The pandemic has hit the labor market hard, with unemployment claims this month reaching nearly 17 million. The layoffs are affecting everyone from white-collar professionals to restaurant, hospitality, and retail employees. And on top of the immediate concerns of a cratering economy, there is additional worry about whether businesses and firms can bounce back from the effects of the lockdown and adjust to the post-pandemic future.
In the end, it means way more people are filing for unemployment than usual. Which, in turn, means countless hours spent trying to get through phone help lines and days waiting for online applications to be processed. The company behind DoNotPay, the chatbot that helps users with legal issues, noticed this problem and is stepping up to help. Folks using DoNotPay can now set up robocalls to essentially sit in line for them until someone picks up. The app also has unemployment information for every state and can help users fill out forms by using the chatbot. Then, the app will submit the forms for them.
This service comes at a crucial time, when unemployment lines and online applications in states around the country are breaking down from the surge in claims.
“The systems are breaking,” Joshua Browder, the CEO of DoNotPay, told Fast Company. “And even when they’re not broken, they have opening hours, no one’s picking up the phone, all this terrible stuff.” The complete mess of a situation gave him the idea to add the service to their app. “It seemed like something we could do because we have the infrastructure to do it.”
DoNotPay already has the ability to help users file lawsuits, fight traffic tickets, and send polite yet firmly-worded letters to landlords for extensions or waivers on rent payments. The unemployment assistance will be an addition to its other features, which are available for $3 a month. Browder is also offering a waiver if users can’t afford the cost during these financially pressing times.
The app doesn’t solve every problem with the unemployment process, but it tries its best. A testimony from one user recommended the app for its user-friendliness, saying it was informative and easy to understand what was needed. It’s also flexible, so folks can pick and choose which part of the process they want to do themselves, such as submitting the auto-filled forms or only using the robocalling feature. But it still can’t change the fact that it can take multiple days to even get to someone by phone or that, once submitted, applications can still take weeks to pay out.
However, until unemployment systems are upgraded or adjusted, DoNotPay’s guidance could be a welcome help in navigating the Byzantine infrastructure of this country’s unemployment system.