Unemployment office jammed? Here's how to file for benefits.

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    Jaclyn Holt fills out an application at a job fair by the New Hampshire Employment Security agency.
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Recently laid off?

So many Americans are joining the ranks of the unemployed that they're clogging the unemployment lines. Literally.

The lines in front of unemployment offices are long. Their telephone lines are jammed. It's so bad in some places that officials suspect that only half the calls are getting through.

Next time you're contending with clogged phone lines or long waits at the unemployment office, here's how to speed your inquiries and get through the benefits-claims process, state unemployment officials say:

• File via the Internet if possible. "The best advice I can say is, please go online," says Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department.

• Offices and phone lines are busiest early in the week. In nonemergency cases, waiting until later in the week will speed processing.

• Try a public library if you do not have Internet access. In addition to offering benefits consultation, state unemployment offices frequently provide computer access. Just be prepared for long lines.

• Keep your information in one place. Be ready to provide all needed information when you reach an official on the phone or in person. "This is basic stuff, but just remembering the little things that it takes to collect your benefits will help the process go smoothly," says Larry Parker, a public information officer for the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina.

• Take notes when you reach an official by phone. Write down the official's name.

Above all, be patient, yet persistent, as you begin the journey toward a new job or career.

The Web page of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies contains links to unemployment offices, and more, in all 50 states.

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