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The state has received roughly 810,000 unemployment insurance claims since March 9, of which about 600,000 have been processed, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said at a Thursday briefing. “It’s a volume issue that we’ve never experienced,” she said.
Last week alone the state received 347,573 claims, a 2,580% increase over the same period in the prior year, according to state labor department data released Thursday. The number of phone calls to the unemployment insurance filing system increased by 16,000% in peak weeks of the pandemic, and website traffic increased by 1,600%, compared to a typical week, the department said.
The remaining 210,000 claims need to be completed, and that process has taxed the system further, DeRosa said. If an applicant leaves blanks on their form, the system directs them to call the department to finalize it, she said, which “then caused the crash in volume, and then the system goes down.”
DeRosa didn’t specify a date when a crash occurred but suggested problems have been ongoing in recent weeks. State officials initially acknowledged glitches in the system the week of March 16.
New York has been the foremost coronavirus hot-spot since the pandemic reached the U.S., with over 159,000 people having tested positive as of Wednesday, and more than 7,000 deaths. The hospitalization rate, however, has slowed in recent days.
The state labor department and Office of Information Technology Services have worked with Google using its Cloud technology to upgrade the system and improve its reliability.
The reboot took place Thursday between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. It includes a new online application with fewer questions, DeRosa said. The online system closed at 7 p.m., so applications will begin being accepted again at 7:30 a.m. Friday, according to the governor’s office.
Rather than having applicants call the state to fill in blank spots on forms, someone from the labor department will call them within 72 hours, she said, “so people don’t have to go through this infuriating process of calling and getting busy signals and thereby collapsing the system.”
Applicants also will be able to save an incomplete application and pick up where they left off, according to the release.
Verizon will increase the number of phone ports for the labor department’s call center, from 1,750 to 10,000, by the end of this week, increasing its call capacity, the news release said. And Deloitte will open an additional unemployment insurance call center, which will further increase call capacity.
State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon acknowledged the urgency of the situation. “We want you to be aware of the steps that we are taking to respond to each of you, as quickly as we can,” she said in the release, addressing state residents. “We know that your livelihood depends on it and we assure you that you will get your benefits.”
More Staff, Expanded Benefits
The state also has taken steps on its own to streamline the filing process and hire additional staff to help handle the rise in claims, which state officials expect to continue to increase.
The department initially planned to hire 65 representatives to help answer phones, and is now in the process of hiring and training an additional 200 to 300 workers, an agency spokeswoman said. There are currently 700 workers answering calls from claimants.
The agency also has expanded its call center hours and days of operation and transitioned from four servers to 50 to accommodate online demand, the spokeswoman said.
Claimants are being asked to file on specific days based on the first letter of their last name, in an effort to decrease call volume.
Cuomo on Wednesday directed the department to make an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits available to all New Yorkers through July 31. The money comes from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act (Public Law 116-136). The state plans to issue the funds immediately, before the total pool of funding is disbursed to all states, according to the governor’s office.
The state also has extended the period covered by unemployment benefits by 13 weeks, for a total of 39 weeks.