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New York Unemployment Site Installs Tech Upgrade to Battle Overwhelming Demand

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More than 189,000 New Yorkers working in “accommodation and food services” have applied for unemployment since the start of COVID-19 crisis last month

The exterior of an office building with brown and beige colors and the sign says new york state department of labor
The state department of labor says it has a new, speedier system to file unemployment claims online
Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

With ever-increasing complaints about New Yorkers not being able to access unemployment claims, the state’s labor department is hoping to speed up the process with tech-focused upgrades with the help of companies like Google, Verizon, and accounting firm Deloitte.

The state rebooted the application system between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday evening, and going forward, applicants won’t have to call the department to finish their applications. Instead, if the labor department deems an application incomplete, someone on staff will give the applicant a call to finish the process over the phone. New Yorkers who currently have an incomplete application or were told to call the department have also been asked to wait to receive a call from labor department staffers.

For weeks, New Yorkers — including tens of thousands of laid-off restaurant industry workers — have been complaining about glitches with the filing system online, such as having to call specialists at the labor department only to have their calls ended mid-conversation. Some have even taken to contacting department of labor staff on social media as the agency struggles to handle the call volume, a 2,700 increase from the same time last year.

The department now claims that most New Yorkers should be able to finish their applications online with the new system. Other upgrades include expanded call center hours: It’s now open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and for the first time on weekends from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. There’s also a change to the filing system that’s based on the first letter of the applicants last name. In addition to the existing order — which is A-F file on Mondays, G-N on Tuesday, and O-Z on Wednesday — New Yorkers that missed their day can now file Thursday through Sunday.

To manage the growing volume of calls, the department has directed 1,000 of its staff to manage the call center operations — up from the regular 400 staffers — and an additional 1,200 staffers, including ones at Deloitte call center who are expected to come on board soon as well. Previously, the department had also hired 700 additional staffers to manage the call volume.

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis last month, a little more than 189,000 people working in “accommodation and food services” have applied for unemployment claims, according to labor department figures. That’s a massive jump from the 6,439 workers in the same industry who applied during the same time last year.

Earlier this week, the department began sending out $600 pandemic unemployment payment, additional cash based on a federally-funded program. These payments will supplement the regular unemployment payments offered at the state level.

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