The New York Department of Labor says it has paid out more than $5.8 billion in unemployment benefits since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic -- but many New Yorkers say they find the number is hard to believe.
Around 1.5 million New Yorkers have been paid their claimed benefits, the department said Wednesday as it also announced a new process to submit backdated certifications for people to get their back pay "faster and easier" due to hundreds of thousands of people failing to file their certifications.
“No New Yorker should miss receiving their benefits because of red tape,” NYS Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement.
Certifications are required in order for the UI payments to be released, and the Labor Department says that's the reason why more than 470,000 people who claimed unemployment haven't gotten their money. It's because they didn't submit one or more weekly certifications.
The announcement was immediately met with social media complaints from New Yorkers, many of whom say they haven't even gotten a call back from the government since March.
"From someone who has a valid pending claim since early March receiving 0 payments and 0 contacts from anyone, I can tell you this is incredibly depressing," one reply to the Labor Department's tweet said.
Another said: "I have about 6 pending applications on file and not one of them has been reviewed and processed. I filed my initial claim on 3/15/2020 and it’s still pending. Why are these claims not being processed in the order in which they were received?"
NBC New York has received hundreds of calls like these. Even after the DoL launched a new website with a promise to call back to all filers within 72 hours.
The Department of Labor also said Wednesday that it has identified 470,084 New Yorkers with complete, processed and payable claims who had previously missed nearly 700,000 previous weekly certifications. "If these individuals had claimed their previous weeks’ benefits, they would have received an additional $480 million," the DoL said.
On the same day, New York lawmakers called on the State Comptroller to request an audit and an investigation into the state Department of Labor's handling of unemployment benefit applications in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, lawmakers also noted constituents' complaints about a breach of their personal information.
Giustina Del Bianco, a 22-year-old college student who says she hasn't heard anything back since she filed for unemployment six weeks ago, told NBC New York that she received a letter from the DoL on May 1, informing her that her personal and confidential information may have been included in an envelope addressed to someone else.
NBC New York has reached out to the department for comment.