NEW YORK — On the eve of the release of more unemployment data Thursday, the story for millions of Americans Wednesday continues to be an inability to even file for unemployment amidst the pandemic.
The New York State Labor Department continues to insist hundreds of thousands of people have been helped by its revamped unemployment system, even as a quick glance at social media reveals continuing frustration for many.
“My last paycheck, I’m on the last legs of that,” said Noel Roberts, a furloughed airport worker.
Roberts applied for unemployment weeks ago, and still has not gotten a phone call to finalize his application.
“Losing your job was already a stressful, and then waiting weeks on end with no response is financially and emotionally stressing,” he said.
Roberts joins a chorus of voices of people out of work and not yet able to get unemployment because of an overloaded system.
NY DOL continues to insist the revamped unemployment website and call center are getting hundreds of thousands of people money. It even produced a glossy social media video touting the improvements since working with companies like Google and Verizon.
The comments online in response to the video were not pretty.
When PIX11 pressed a department spokeswoman about why people still were not getting calls within 72-hours of applying, as promised— she seemed to back off that promise.
“Keep in mind that this is a process and it has been less than a week since the new system was implemented,” she wrote via email.
There are also stories that claim the “call-back” is not exactly what you might think.
“1:15 in the morning, who calls? Unemployment,” Michael Cea said. “1:15 in the morning!”
That was just an automated call, but since Cea did not answer, he does not know if he will get another real call. The out of work senior is now struggling to pay for critical medicine, and to state officials who say the system is working, he says: “BS…Truly no…I don’t think you’re doing it.”
PIX11 also learned the NY DOL and NJ DOL are processing unemployment claims for freelancers and the self-employed incorrectly.
The U.S. Department of Labor said it sent guidance that state unemployment offices should not be automatically rejecting those applicants and telling them to appeal their claims. There has been a lot of confusion for this group of people because they do not normally get unemployment, but it is being allowed under the coronavirus relief bill.
However, the New York State Department of Labor says it will continue to require the initial rejected unemployment claim. Here is a reason provided by a spokeswoman:
The US DOL issued guidance that says “a state must have an established process whereby the individual’s ineligibility for regular UI is documented on the application.” The UI application is the quickest and most efficient way to do this. Without it, PUA (Pandempandemic unemployment assistance) benefits could not be paid until an entire stand-alone system was developed and implemented. That would take longer, greatly prolonging the time it takes to provide benefits to New Yorkers.