Many New Yorkers are confronting the reality of three or four weeks without any money, after hitting multiple snags in the inefficient and overwhelmed state unemployment application system. Some say they can't pay rent or bills, others don't have money to feed their kids or care for elderly relatives.
The New York State Department of Labor launched a new application system last week after coming under fire for forcing thousands of newly-unemployed New Yorkers to call a hotline that was not equipped to deal with demand.
NBC 4 spoke with multiple applicants who had recorded thousands of calls to the department over a period of weeks, only to reach a busy line, while more than 10,000 people signed a petition calling for an urgent fix to the application system.
However the new website, launched in partnership with Google, is still leaving many applications hanging, despite promising a call back to all filers within 72 hours of last Thursday. Since then, NBC 4 received more than 400 emails from applicants who have still not got a call back. Some wanted to share their stories, others were simply desperate for information. We put those questions to the state department -- scroll down for answers to some of your most frequently-asked concerns.
New York mom Maria has been trying to contact the department since March 20, and as of April 15 has not had her claim completed. Maria was furloughed from her hotel job in midtown Manhattan due to COVID-19, and asked to use her first name to protect her children's identities.
"I have three kids that pretty soon I won’t have any money to feed them," she said, sending a photo of hundreds of dropped calls to the labor department. "This is what my phone log looks like daily and it’s this [few number of calls] only because I am frustrated and would sometimes cry. It’s not fair for my kids to go through a pandemic and see their mom cry."
As of Tuesday, Maria said she had got a call back from a helpful woman at the department, but afterwards she was notified that she would have to call back again. "So I am back to calling. And still have not gotten through."
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Manhattan carpenter John filed over a month ago, and has still not got a call back. He says he worked for years "busting [his] butt" building New York's best sky rises before the COVID-19 crisis hit. Now he's been left in a precarious situation. "I have absolutely no income whatsoever and have to get food from shelters and assistance programs. Which I am very thankful for. But I don’t even have any gas money to get there," he said. "I’m stuck at home walking 10 miles covered up with masks and gloves along busy highways to grab only a couple cans of food."
John says he has left multiple messages on the DoL website. "I now keep my phone by my side at all times so I do not miss a call. But now my phone bill is due. I have a prepaid account. There isn’t any leniency with a prepaid account. You either pay it when it’s due or it’s turned off."
Another New York mom, Gloria, said she has been trying to get through to the department since March 12. She got a robocall from the department over the weekend, but her claim has still not been processed. "Still waiting, still trying," she said. "I'm on my last $20 dollars, I really need this resolved soon. I have two kids here and my 82-year-old aunt.... All I can do is pray at this point."
Meanwhile Chaudhary Harris, a doctoral student in organic chemistry at Stony Brook University, wrote NBC 4 concerned about his mother and aunt who live in Queens and who were laid off due to the outbreak. "They sell souvenirs that say IHeartNY to tourists from all over the world," he said. Harris said his mother and aunt were trying to contact the department for weeks after filing, calling hundreds of times.
"These are single women who don't speak English well. They are American citizens but if it continues like this, they might lose their apartment and instead of being homeless, they will buy a ticket to Pakistan (where they were born) and live in a village," he said. On Tuesday afternoon, they finally got a call back. "A huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders," Harris said.
Many other emails NBC 4 received laid bare the frustration and distress many New Yorkers were going through.
"I still have not heard back from them, it’s way over 72 hours," one New Yorker wrote. "I have a family of five to feed. I’ve tried calling them and you just can’t get through. I am going to have to do something soon I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family. I am 55 years old. I spent all our life savings on getting custody of our four-year-old granddaughter. We have been living for the last year paycheck to paycheck. What can we do?"
Another sent a desperate final email before his phone was cut off due to no-payment. "I have literally been calling 600 - 800 times a day each Tuesday... and also on Thursday, Friday and 3,000 times on Saturday since March 9th 2020. Please help me and my daughter, we are out of money and food. It's just the two of us and desperately need my unemployment benefits to be processed."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said last Thursday the important thing was that everyone would get their full entitlement, eventually. "It’s not like you’re not going to get the same benefit just because you didn't get through on Monday and you get through on Thursday."
However applicants who have been waiting weeks with no money and dwindling supplies expressed disappointment with this sentiment. "The arrogance of the governor to say, "Just because you don't get through on Monday," shows just how out-of-touch this governor is," one applicant wrote NBC 4.
Many New Yorkers were also sharing their frustrations in a Facebook group 'HELP US - NYS Unemployment Issues' that has swelled to 20,000 users in the last few weeks. Page administrator Sara Gordon said many in the group were still waiting for the phone call that was supposed to happen within the 72 hour time frame. "Many are desperate," she said.
However Gordon added that it seemed more and more members were, "very gradually," having their claims completed, and that the department was doing the best it could under a situation its systems weren't built for. "There is still more the DoL can do to remedy the situation though. The next step is getting people their money."
The state said Thursday it had received 810,000 claims since March 9. Of those claims, 600,000 have been processed, with more than 200,000 claims still in limbo.
We are collating your most frequently asked questions from your emails, and putting them to the state department. See the answers below. These will be updated as we hear more.
UNEMPLOYMENT APPLICATION FAQS
If filers missed their call from the DOL what should they do?
If they miss the call, DOL will call them back, the department says.
If an applicant filed before the new website went live, do they still need to call?
No. The department says they will call you back.
Many applicants did not get a call back within 72 hours. Some applied recently, some applied weeks ago. What should people do if they still haven’t got a call back?
The department provided this response to the above question: "Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have been reached through the improvements to our Unemployment Insurance system and we continue to serve more each day. Our DOL team is working around the clock to serve their fellow New Yorkers and our number one priority is getting them their benefits. We are contacting thousands of New Yorkers daily, inputting more information and processing more claims.
"Like other states across the country, New York is seeing the highest number of Unemployment Insurance claims since the Great Depression and many of those claims came within a 2 ½ week period. This is a process and every day more and more New Yorkers are getting their benefits. We will get everyone all of the benefits they are due."
What is the system in place for call backs — do the people waiting the longest get called first?
The department representative is getting clarification on who is getting called back first.
A number of people are telling NBC 4 they got a call back and gave personal data to the caller, but their claim is still pending online. They are worried they gave information to a scammer. How can people tell whether they are talking to the DOL?
Many DOL staff are working remotely due the COVID-19 outbreak, so the call from the department will show as a private number, the department says. "That's why we are reminding New Yorkers that anyone calling from the Department of Labor will verify their identity by providing the date claimants filed their Unemployment Insurance application and the type of claim they filed, which is information only our representatives would have access to," the department said. "Our representatives may ask some personal information in order to verify the claimant’s identity and complete their application.”
A number of people tell NBC 4 they can’t reset their login information, and it's preventing them from claiming. They say they can’t get through to technical support to reset this information. What should they do?
If individuals are having trouble with their NY.GOV ID’s they can call 1-800-833-3000. Select language, then press 2, the department says.