ALBANY - It may start with “this call cannot be completed when dialed.”
Perhaps, on the second try, should a caller get through, the state Department of Labor’s auto message will state they’re experiencing high call volumes and promptly disconnect.
On the third try, you may get past the prompts but be left waiting to speak with an agent, only then to be disconnected because of high call volumes.
Thousands of New Yorkers have taken to social media to express their frustration and anxiety over their inability to get unemployment claims processed as they are held up by a phone call. Residents have blasted the department for its handling of claims both on the labor department’s Facebook page and on that same platform in a recently formed group dubbed “HELP US - NYS Unemployment Issues.”
Many are calling for the state agency to waive its phone-call requirement for claims to be processed to help alleviate stress on those applying for the benefits. It would also reduce the calls that have inundated the labor department since the coronavirus pandemic prompted businesses across the country体彩app官方网站 to close and employees to be laid off or furloughed.
East Greenbush resident Melanie Douglas was laid off from her job at a daycare three weeks ago. She had no trouble getting through the online application for unemployment benefits, but every day since she’s unsuccessfully tried to reach an agent to complete her claim.
“You’re absolutely stuck. It’s very draining to every day, all day, be just pressing redial and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere,” Douglas said. “I don’t understand why they’re making it so difficult. We don’t have an option. People literally cannot work.”
The New York Department of Labor has been overwhelmed with calls due to the unemployment insurance system that's being clogged with newly jobless applicants. Department officials said they have seen a 16,000 percent increase in phone calls and a nearly 900 percent increase in web traffic, compared to a typical week.
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Labor Department announced that 345,246 New Yorkers filed claims during the week that ended April 4 — slightly lower than the tally of 366,595 claims filed the previous week.
Department spokeswoman Deanna Cohen said not every applicant has to call in, and officials have made efforts to improve the system, including adding additional web servers and hiring more people to take calls, but the applicants must still wait on hold for hours.
“We have streamlined the process by reducing the number of claimants who have to speak to representatives by over half,” she said. “However, there are still instances where, per federal law, certain claimants have to verify information to complete their claim by phone.”
Cohen did not respond to a follow-up question seeking clarity on what criteria requires a claimant to call an agent after applying for benefits online.
Those who have been faced with the added step can’t seem to find a commonality among those who are required and those who aren’t, Douglas said.
Claimants who have completed the process say that, once they are connected with an agent, the phone call lasts a few minutes and simply verifies information previously given online. State officials hope federal guidance will be released that can relax some of the requirements.
But until the claim is completely processed - which for some includes that phone call - people aren’t seeing a payment. Douglas said she has yet to receive a payment despite applying online three weeks ago.
“A claimant will not start receiving benefits until their claim is complete,” Cohen said. “However, they will receive benefits back to the date of their unemployment. It is our priority to ensure New Yorkers receive all of the benefits that are due them.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday also announced an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits will be made available to all New Yorkers. The department also is extending the period covered by unemployment benefits another 13 weeks, for a total of 39 weeks, Cuomo said. The federal government is expected to reimburse states for the additional contribution through the recently passed CARES Act.
The department is in the process of hiring an additional 300 people to answer phones on top of the nearly 800 representatives answering calls now, Cohen said. They’ve also expanded hours and days of operation for the call center to include hours on Saturday and Sunday, she said.
The extended hours include 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The state also is working with Google to develop a new website that will be easier to use, and additional improvements to the system are in the works, officials said.