ALBANY — As of 7 p.m. tonight, Thursday, April 9, frustrated, out of work people should have an easier time filing for unemployment benefits.
The overwhelmed system will reboot at 5 p.m., and two hours later applicants will be able to fill out a form online without necessarily having to call and talk to a real person. If the form is not filled out correctly, or if there are any questions, the website will tell the applicant a Department of Labor employee will call them within 72 hours. Previously, people were required to call the DOL and often got buzzy signals for days or got bounced off the phone call as they were navigating the menu of options.
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The new application will also be more streamlined and have fewer questions.
The phone verification was necessary to ensure people who were applying were actually qualified to get benefits.
Also, earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended unemployment benefits by 13 weeks to 39 weeks of eligibility. The state will, too, fund the $600 a week benefit for those laid off because of shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That money is part of the $2 trillion federal incentive package and the state is expecting to get reimbursed by Washington but will expedite the disbursement of funds by making it part of the state unemployment process.
On Thursday, Melissa DeRossa, secretary to the governor, said the state received 350,000 claims in the past week and 810,000 claims since March 9. Of those claims, 600,000 have been processed with more than 200,000 claims not processed. It remains unclear how many have not been able to begin the process or how many more will get furloughed by companies who are having difficulty as the shutdown continues.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, peak weeks have seen an unprecedented number of claims, a 16,000 percent increase in phone calls and a 1,600 percent increase in web traffic, compared to a typical week.
First-time claims for unemployment hit 6.6 million last week, after about the same the week before and 3.3 million the week before that.
There are 1,000 employees at the DOL hired just to handle the increased volume of applicants.
“We have 1,000 people working on processing applications for unemployment benefits,” Cuomo said on Thursday. “That used to be the number of applicants.”
He said the benefits are retroactive to the time when a person lost their job and not when an application is successfully processed.