Coronavirus: Andrew Cuomo apologizes to unemployment seekers for 'deluged' system
ALBANY – New York's unemployment system continues to be overwhelmed by a flood of traffic from those who lost their jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak, leading Gov. Andrew Cuomo to apologize Tuesday to those struggling to get through.
The state Department of Labor's unemployment system received 1.2 million calls Monday alone, an exponential increase from the 50,000 or so calls it fields in a normal week, according to the state.
That deluge, coupled with unprecedented traffic to the Labor Department's website, has stretched the office thin, leaving many people trying day after day to file their initial paperwork or to talk to an associate to complete their claim.
Cuomo again acknowledged the issue during his daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday, telling reporters the system is "not working as smoothly as I would like to see it." The issues are "compounding people's stress," he said.
"You’re unemployed, you’re trying to get on some darn website," Cuomo said. "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."
Many people calling day after day
New York had about 80,500 people file for unemployment the week ending March 21, the week Cuomo began rolling out restrictions on the percentage of employees that can report to work on site for nonessential businesses.
That number, however, didn't account for potentially thousands of people who were unable to get through the system to complete their claim.
And it doesn't account for the thousands more laid off after Cuomo's NYS on PAUSE plan took effect March 22, which shuttered all in-person operations for nonessential businesses.
Carrie Davin, a floral designer from Avon, Livingston County, is among those who have been left frustrated with the state's unemployment system.
Davin, 50, said she lost her job indefinitely on March 20. Since then, she said she spent about three hours a day on the phone — plus eight hours one Saturday —trying to get through to a Labor Department associate to complete her claim.
The process has been "horrific," she said.
“I understand it. I get it," Davin said. "I’m not the only person who is dealing with it. There are millions of people out there. It’s just not something I want to do, sit on the phone for hours and hours trying to get through.”
Labor Department hiring hundreds
The Labor Department, meanwhile, is hiring to try and shoulder the burden.
The agency is looking to immediately hire 200 additional clerks to staff its call offices in Albany and Endicott, Broome County.
Call center hours have also been extended, with clerks now available to take calls from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.
In attempt to spread out calls more evenly, the Labor Department has asked those with a last name beginning with A through F to file new unemployment claims on Monday, while G through N should file Tuesday and O through Z filing Wednesday.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday are open to anyone who missed their filing day.
Cuomo said the state is working with a variety of tech companies to try to bolster the state's unemployment insurance website. He said Tuesday the state is spending "a lot of money" to resolve the issues.
"The site is so deluged and it keeps crashing because you literally have hundreds of thousands of people at any time trying to get on the site," he said.
Jon Campbell is a New York state government reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.
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