Some unemployed residents at wits’ end with DOL

Coronavirus

Unemployed callers wait on hold for hours or get disconnected. State officials say they are doing their best to address the overwhelming number of calls and web applications.

Visitors to the New York State Department of Labor are turned away at the door by personnel due to closures over coronavirus concerns. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Cynthia Pigler hasn’t seen a paycheck since March 20.

The bus driver got laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic and she called the state unemployment office at least 250 times Wednesday without luck.

“I have been calling on the weekend, I have been calling this morning, still nothing,” Pigler said from her Cheektowaga home.

She said when she calls, one of three things usually happen: the number does not ring at all or she gets an automatic message stating all representatives are busy and to call back later or the line just loses connection.

She’s at wits’ end, doing her best, she said, to hide her overwhelming stress from her children.

“My oldest son seen me and he keeps telling me, ‘mom, don’t get stressed out about it,’” Pigler said.

“I can’t even do it online because I am at the point where I have to speak to a rep to finish my claim.”

She is not alone by any means.

News 4 is getting complaints daily from Western New Yorkers who are frustrated with the state’s overwhelmed unemployment system.

Christina Peckens, of Derby, is a hair stylist who got laid off March 16.

“So, it has been nearly three weeks and I have not been able to get through to anyone,” she said.

“I tried literally every way possible.”

Peckens said she has already called the unemployment phone number 500 times on Thursday. She either gets disconnected or is put on hold for hours.

The New York State Department of Labor is overwhelmed with calls and website traffic because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Between Monday, March 23, and Saturday, March 28, the Department of Labor’s phone system recorded over 8.2 million calls, compared to just 50,000 in a typical week, representing an increase of 16,000%,” said Deanna Cohen, the department’s deputy director of communications

The website traffic is at an all-time high, too, with 3.4 million visits, compared to 350,000 in a typical week, representing an increase in web traffic of nearly 900%, Cohen said.

On Thursday, the state said 369,025 unemployment insurance claims were filed – an increase of 2,674% compared to last year.

Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the unemployment concerns earlier this week, saying that the system is not working as smoothly as he would like it to be.

“It’s compounding people’s stress,” he said.

“You’re unemployed, you’re trying to get on some darn website, you can’t get through the website. We have companies working on it. We have literally hundreds of people working on it. I apologize for the pain — it must be infuriating to deal with. I am telling you we have every technology company working on it. We’re spending a lot of money. The site is so deluged that it keeps crashing because you literally have hundreds of thousands of people at any time trying to get on the site and it continues to crash.”

Peckens said her father and some of her friends got through, but for some reason every attempt she has made to reach a representative has failed.

“I have been jobless and moneyless for three weeks now. I don’t know what to do,” she said.

“My dad got through and I told him I am about to drive to Albany and knock on their door. What I see is it has only gotten worse. I don’t understand how every person I know has gotten through but me, that is the frustrating part.”

The Department of Labor said it is trying to address these concerns.

Cohen said it is important for unemployed residents to know that even if your filing is delayed, you will still receive the entire benefit that you are entitled to.

The department wants New Yorkers to help reduce the surge by only filing unemployment insurance claims on certain days, based on the first letter of their last name:

  • Monday: Last name starts A-F
  • Tuesday: Last name starts G-N
  • Wednesday: Last name starts O-Z
  • Thursday, Friday, Saturday: all last names

Cohen said they are streamlining the claims process to make it quicker and automating additional pieces of the process so there are fewer reasons a filer must call the hotline.

The department has increased staff with 700 employees dedicated to the unemployment insurance hotline

In addition, Cohen said hundreds of additional staff are being on-boarded and trained.

The department also extended the call center hours, including adding Saturdays:

The department is processing applications on Sundays and added more than 20 new servers to handle the increased web traffic.

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