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A startup company is offering to take over the burden of filing for unemployment benefits from millions of Americans who lost jobs in an economy devastated by both the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it.
The free service, developed by DoNotPay, uses a bot to fill out claim forms and wait on states' unemployment phone lines, which have been jammed as historic numbers of taxpayers try to obtain unemployment income at the same time.
Within two hours of the service's launch on Wednesday, 5,000 people took advantage of it, DoNotPay CEO Joshua Browder told FOX Business.
State websites and phone lines across the country have been overwhelmed with applicants — causing sites to crash, generating busy signals on phone lines and delaying much-needed payments. While many states are doing their best to respond — adding staff, updating technology and streamlining their processes — it’s tough to keep up.
"We are very willing to improve the current system," Browder said.
As claims began to build, prior users of DoNotPay -- which has dubbed itself the world's first robot lawyer -- were writing to the company to seek help, Browder said.
It was an understandable request. For a $3 monthly subscription, the site has helped people navigate the legal system since 2015, offering assistance with everything from small claims lawsuits to customer service disputes, even filling out the paperwork required in each case.
So, Browder figured, "Why not apply our skills to this problem?"
Over a month and a half, a team of seven individuals put together the new service, which can be accessed on desktop computers or digital device apps, Browder told FOX Business. After logging in, users will be asked a series of questions, which the bot will use to fill out paperwork and submit on their behalf.
Mailing the forms in will help speed up the process and get a check into someone's hands faster compared with other methods, Browder said.
For states that require applicants to telephone an unemployment office, bots can call in and wait on hold until an agent gets on the line, then forward the call directly to the platform user seeking help.
The service works across all 50 states even though they use different systems, Browder said. People seeking the app's help with a claim should have the following information handy:
Social Security Number
Copy of Driver’s License/ID Card
DD Form 214 (if you’ve served in the military)
Alien Registration Number and Expiration Date if Non-US Citizen
Paycheck stub/W-2 Form from your last employer
Name of supervisor at last employer
Reason for reduced hours or job loss
Name of employer, period of employment, and hourly wages earned from all workplaces in the past 18 months
Bank Account Number & Routing Number
Browder said the company does not store private information, relying instead on Very Good Security, a data-privacy platform that helps businesses maintain data safely.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.