The Department of Labor rolled out a new system Monday to help residents decide whether to file for regular unemployment or pandemic-related assistance.
Since New York essentially shut down in mid-March, the department has been struggling under the weight of hundreds of thousands of claims filed by residents who found themselves out of work or put on furlough.
The department’s new online application streamlines the process by determining which benefits a claimant can apply for — whether it’s regular unemployment insurance or pandemic unemployment assistance — in one form.
Pandemic unemployment assistance, provided by the federal government through the CARES Act on March 27, allowed for those who traditionally couldn’t apply for unemployment insurance, such as independent contractors and the self-employed.
But those applying for it had to first apply for unemployment insurance and be rejected before applying for PUA, according to federal guidelines.
That logistical wrinkle added an extra waiting period to the unemployment application process, which confused and frustrated residents who wondered how long they’d have to wait to get benefits.
"That should hopefully streamline for those people, who I know have been really struggling, to get their money faster," Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said Monday.
How the new change will help with unemployment claims?
The removal of that extra step comes just over a week after the department overhauled the website and changed its phone system in partnership with Google and other technology companies.
Thousands of claimants were calling the department to finalize their claims and ended up waiting on hold for hours.
Starting April 10, the callback system sent robocalls to claimants with partially completed applications, telling them they’d receive a call from a human representative within 72 hours.
Many unemployed individuals with incomplete applications said they never got a robocall or have waited days for a representative to call them back.
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the department has paid approximately $2.2 billion in unemployment insurance benefits to 1.1 million New Yorkers.
The application call backlog prior to April 8 has been reduced to 4,305 from 275,000.
The department also deployed over 3,100 representatives to address unemployment needs seven days a week, up from the 400 who previously manned the center prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The DOL’s mission is to help our neighbors through some of their toughest days, and in the last week we have made great strides in updating our systems,” Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said.
“While it appears the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to stabilize — at least from the public health perspective — we know that many New Yorkers are still facing an uncertain economic future.”
Those who are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance include:
Self-employed New Yorkers;
New Yorkers who worked for an app-based company (i.e. "gig workers")
Those diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have COVD-19 symptoms and are seeking a diagnosis;
Those living with a household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
Those providing care for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19;
A primary caregiver for a child unable to attend school or another facility due to COVID-19;
Those unable to reach their place of employment due to an imposed quarantine or because they have been advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
Those scheduled to commence new employment that cannot reach their workplace as a direct result of COVID-19;
Those who became a major breadwinner because the head of their household died from COVID-19;
Those who quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
Those whose place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19;
Those with insufficient work history and affected by COVID-19; and
New Yorkers otherwise not qualified for regular or extended UI benefits and affected by COVID-19
Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network's New York State Team. She investigates stories about your consumer rights, including scams, negligent landlords, safety issues and wayward businesses.