The federal government’s $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package beefed up unemployment aid last week, but hospitality workers and other laid off staffers in New York are still having a tough time actually filing for assistance. That’s in spite of the fact that the state has hired more than 700 additional people to answer unemployment-related phone calls, with hundreds more being hired and trained.
“The site is so deluged that it keeps crashing, because you literally have hundreds of thousands of people at any time trying to get on the site,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday morning, referring to the state unemployment insurance website.
“It’s compounding people’s stress,” Cuomo added, speaking during his daily press conference. “You’re unemployed, you trying to get on some darn website... I apologize for the pain. It must be infuriating to deal with.”
The backlog will put out-of-work waiters, bartenders, and cooks in a tight financial spot as April 1 rent checks come due. The labor department hotline received 7.8 million calls last week, state budget director Robert Mujica said at the press conference. During a typical week, the agency only receives 50,000 calls.
The website received 2.4 million hits from last Monday to Thursday, versus the typical weekly max of 350,000, according to an emailed statement from the labor department.
The state has added hundreds of new staffers to process the claims, and hundreds more will come, per the department.
Unemployment insurance allows workers to collect a portion of their salary, up to $504 a week in New York, for up to 26 weeks, though the federal stimulus act will let workers earn an extra $600 per week on top of that through the end of July. Workers who continue to be impacted by COVID-19 will be able to extend regular benefits for up to 39 weeks total.
“It is important to stress that everyone will receive their FULL benefit back to the date of unemployment, even if they file late,” the department said via email. The state has also attempted to resolve the bottleneck in applications by having claimants file on days that correspond with the first letter of their last name, as Eater NY reported last week.
The labor department says it has added servers and increased bandwidth to accommodate the extra traffic. Call center hours have also been extended.
For at least two ex-restaurant staffers, being able to file for unemployment hasn’t yet translated into funds. “Since direct deposit takes time to go into effect, my first payment is on a debit card that I assume is in the mail but have no way of tracking it. Calling is still futile,” one of the staffers, who filed last week, told Eater. Another ex-staffer who filed on March 9, reports they have still not received any funds.
At least 67,650 city hospitality workers were laid off or furloughed after the state closed bars and restaurants for everything but takeout or delivery, according to one industry estimate. About 325,000 people worked in New York eating and drinking places in February, the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show.
Cuomo said the state is working with technology companies to resolve issues with the site.