Workers laid off due to coronavirus can’t get through to unemployment office

Workers laid off due to coronavirus can’t get through to unemployment office

Crashing websites and jammed phone lines are preventing workers put out of a job by the coronavirus crisis from even applying for unemployment benefits.

Some are so frustrated by the endless dropped calls that they’ve considered just giving up — even if it means foregoing some much-needed cash.

“You want to keep trying because you never know what can happen, but after a while it’s like, what’s the point of even trying?” said Shaniya Clarke of Flatbush, Brooklyn, who’s been calling the New York Department of Labor for two weeks to no avail.

The state agency has admitted it is struggling to keep up with an unprecedented spike in jobless claims, which surged to more than 3.2 million nationwide last week. Some experts say the number may be even higher because so many people have had trouble filing for benefits.

Some 6 million calls poured in from Monday through Thursday to the Empire State’s unemployment hotline, which usually gets just 50,000 calls in a week, state officials said. And its website got 2.4 million hits in those four days when it typically sees 350,000 in a week.

The overloaded system has frustration running high among New Yorkers laid off or furloughed because of the coronavirus, which has led officials in several states to shutter non-essential businesses.

Workers told The Post that the Labor Department’s online application crashed after they filled out several pages of information. It didn’t save their progress, they said, so they had to start over only for the site to crash again.

Workers tried calling to complete the application. But some just got a message saying the system was slammed and to call back later. Sometimes callers were told they’d be transferred to an operator — but the call dropped before they reached one.

“It was like a labyrinth that just kept funneling me into a garbage can,” said Ryan Krause, 35, who was furloughed two weeks ago from his job as a server at Downtown Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse movie theater.

Krause said he got his first unemployment check Friday after spending almost all of last week trying to apply. But others remain stalled by the maddening system.

Clarke, 21, said she’s spent hours calling the Labor Department in the roughly two weeks since the closure of the Target and Century 21 department stores where she worked. She has yet to get through, even when the lines first open in the morning.

“Now you call and it’s basically like the phone number doesn’t exist half the time,” said Kim Boldrini-Senn, a Putnam County acupuncturist who had to close her practice because of the coronavirus. She estimated that she’s logged 1,000 phone calls to the state.

Similar problems have emerged in other states such as New Jersey, where the unemployment system crashed March 16 as a record number of applications poured in, Gov. Phil Murphy said last week.

Jay McCann of Delaware, Ohio worked at a Topgolf venue in Columbus that’s been closed since March 15, when Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the state’s bars and restaurants to shut down except for carry-out and delivery service.

McCann got locked out of the state job agency’s unemployment website that night, so he tried to call the following day. He heard a message saying there was a high volume of calls before the call dropped. The same thing has happened every day since, he said.

“It’s almost like you’re drowning in a pool or out in the ocean and somebody throws you a lifeline with the donut on it and you’re swimming toward it and just as you approach it, it gets pulled away,” McCann, 48, told The Post.

Some state officials say they’re trying to do better. Ohio’s Department of Job and Family Services said Wednesday that it’s “working hard to boost capacity.” The New York Labor Department said it has more than 700 staffers working the phones while training hundreds more.

“Our dedicated staff is doing their best to serve everyone as quickly and efficiently as possible,” the agency said in a statement. “It is important to stress that everyone will receive their FULL benefit back to the date of unemployment, even if they file late.”

But those efforts haven’t reassured workers who say they’re burning through savings while they battle the overworked system.

“I need that unemployment benefits because I don’t know when I’m going to be going back to work,” said Kevin Blake of Breezy Point, Queens, who was laid off March 11 from his job as a laborer. “It feels like I’m being rejected.”

Source : Noah Manskar Link

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