The New York Department of Labor received more than 80,500 unemployment insurance claims in one week in mid-March as New York workers were hit by a coronavirus-fueled economic shutdown.
Unemployment claims filed in the week ending on March 21 increased by 520% over the same period last year, the department said Thursday in a statement.
Ever since coronavirus caused many New York businesses to shutter or take a major hit to profits, people have been coming to the state’s unemployment website in droves, searching for some sort of income.
Overloaded with calls, filings
Last week, the department received more than 1,734,100 calls and 2,270,300 website visits. It is experiencing a 1000% increase in claims in some areas of the state, said spokesperson Deanna Cohen.
It attempted to spread out the amount of online unemployment filings by organizing filing days around an alphabetical system, using filers’ last names.
The department expanded hours to file by telephone into weekday evenings and Saturdays.
It increased bandwidth and server capacity, and dedicated 700 staff members to address the influx of calls and filings, said Cohen. It plans to add at least 65 additional staffers at its call center.
The department posted on Twitter Thursday, saying it is looking to hire about 200 people to help process claims at centers in Albany and Endicott.
But sometimes it’s still not enough to keep up with the demand. Filers have complained about the unemployment website has repeatedly crashing under the weight of thousands of clicks each day.
The department wants one message to get out: Everyone will receive their full benefit back to the date of unemployment. It urged people to continue calling until they get through, especially if they need to finalize their claim.
“Our dedicated representatives are doing the best they can to make sure everyone is served, as quickly as possible, even if it takes longer than usual,” said Cohen.
“We have streamlined the claims process to make it quicker and there are a list of other steps we have taken to manage the influx.”
Employer not complying? You can complain
If an employer does not comply with laws around paid sick leave — legislation was passed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and work from home orders, employees can file a complaint with the department.
Last week, Cuomo directed all non-essential businesses to have employees go home or work from home.
If you’re in one of the following situations at your workplace, you may want to consider filing a complaint with the Department of Labor:
– You qualify for COVID-19 paid sick leave and your employer refuses to pay it
– You are being directed to work at a non-essential business
– Your employer has failed to pay your earned sick pay or paid time off
– Your employer has failed to pay your earned wages or pay for all of the hours you worked
– Your employer has threatened or fired you for reasons related to COVID-19
– Your employer is forcing you to work when you are sick
– You know about a business that is non-essential and is operating
Essential businesses include healthcare and veterinary services, transportation and utility infrastructure, food manufacturing and grocery stores, trash and recycling collection, funeral parlors and cemeteries, law enforcement and news media.
Coronavirus snarls budget preparation
The coronavirus hit New York’s economy in the midst of the state government’s attempts to form a budget for the coming year.
New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found last week that New York should anticipate a $4 billion to $7 billion deficit in its expected tax revenue after restaurants, bars and other businesses have been forced to close or pare down their operations.
Advocacy groups are now pushing for changes to the $178 billion budget proposal Cuomo presented in January.
One sore point is an expansion of prevailing wage requirements, which is meant to ensure construction workers get a union-negotiated wage, even on private projects.
Business advocacy organization Unshackle Upstate said Monday that such a proposal doesn’t make sense in the current climate.
“Recovering from this crisis and rebuilding our economy will require unwavering support from our state government,” said Michael Kracker, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, in the group’s statement.
“Unfortunately, leaders in Albany are using this crisis as an opportunity to expand the state’s costly prevailing wage mandates — a move that would put special interests ahead of our state’s economic recovery.”
A recent study found that a prevailing wage expansion could increase costs for developers by 30%. The government should be focused on cutting businesses a break, not saddling them with further costs, Kracker argued.
Cuomo and supporters of the measure said it should be implemented to ensure workers receive appropriate wages.
"This legislation will ensure New York's largest-in-the-nation building program is not cutting corners when it comes to the construction of our infrastructure," Cuomo said in January.