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Woman faxes Department of Labor: "I need HELP, and am BEGGING for someone to call me back"

Woman faxes message to the NYS Department of Labor after 7 weeks and no benefits
Posted at 1:41 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 18:18:25-04

MARILLA, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — Karley O'Keefe from Marilla has been trying for seven weeks to get unemployment benefits from New York State after her jobs as a waitress and professional dancer for the Buffalo Bandettes, which represents the Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team, shut down.

The effort was met with frustration as O'Keefe made thousands of phone calls. She also received conflicting information saying her benefits were approved but then being told the application was not completed and she needed to speak with a representative.

O'Keefe said when she called and finally reached the automated phone prompts, a message would say 'all representatives are busy' and the phone call ended.

"It is absolutely testing my patience in all aspects," said O'Keefe.

Taking some advice from her father, O'Keefe resorted to 'old technology' and faxed a letter to the NYS Department of Labor begging someone to "call me back."

So far, no response.

"No luck yet, but I am going to keep trying," added O'Keefe.

7 Eyewitness News has also heard from other viewers who worry their claims have been lost in the system because so many weeks have gone by. One viewer told us she was on-hold for three hours when the call to the NYS Department of Labor suddenly hung up.

Another concern is whether New York State has enough money to pay unemployment benefits.

Governor Cuomo said the state is looking to borrow money from the federal government to pay the benefits "because we don't have the money." Officials emphasized that New Yorkers are not in danger of losing their benefits because NYS has applied for a $4 billion, interest-free loan from the federal government.

Since March 9, New York State has processed 1.4 million initial unemployment claims and paid out $3.1 billion in benefits.

So many people applied for unemployment benefits due to Covid-19 that it crashed the Department of Labor's website and phone system.

Governor Cuomo previously said 1,000 people were working, along with GOOGLE, to make improvements. A streamlined application process, that separated traditional unemployment applications for benefits from pandemic unemployment assistance, was hoped to decrease the congestion and delays.

Cuomo admitted that the delays are "annoying" but reminded people applying for benefits that they aren't losing money as the benefits will be paid-out retroactively.

That is little consolation for people going weeks without pay and spending hours trying to get someone on the phone. "I have not called a couple times, not a couple-hundred times, but thousands of times - probably close to 10,000 times," said Karley O'Keefe.

NYS DEPARTMENT OF LABOR RESPONSE.

7 Eyewitness New contacted the NYS Department of Labor about the complaints and received a lengthy reply explaining how it is responding to the crisis and the need for unemployment benefits:

Statement: “New York has paid out over $3 billion in unemployment benefits since the start of this crisis -- more than any other state of comparable size -- while launching a new web application with Google and deploying thousands of staff to ensure the historic volume of claimants are able to get the benefits they deserve. We’re working 24/7 to ensure every single person gets the help they need during this unprecedented crisis."

On background:

Last week, we launched a streamlined application that lets New Yorkers apply for either traditional UI or PUA, depending on their eligibility. This system is able to function because of changes to Federal policies that earlier created a PUA backlog.

This individual’s claim, like the other individuals in the PUA category, can now be processed. If no further information is needed, she will not get a call back. Our 3,000 representatives are working 7 days a week, on the phones and processing claims, to get their fellow New Yorkers their benefits as quickly as possible.

Details:

  • This is a Federal program that was signed into law on March 27th ... but regulations weren't issued until April 5th
  • The original regulations said that applicants had to apply for traditional unemployment insurance, be found ineligible, and THEN apply for PUA -- so we started working under that system ... which takes time.
  • But as soon as the Federal government lifted that restriction, we immediately (on 4/20) launched a new, streamlined application that allows New Yorkers to apply for either traditional unemployment insurance or PUA, based on their eligibility.
  • And once again, New York was leading the nation on PUA -- California's PUA system won't go live until April 28th and Illinois' won't launch until May 11th
  • Important context: This crisis is magnitudes greater than anything this nation has seen in recent history. So far, 26 million Americans -- including 1.4 million New Yorkers -- have filed for unemployment benefits in just six weeks. Here's some historical context:
  • During the 2008 Great Recession, New York State lost about 300,000 private sector jobs
  • And at the more macro level, before this pandemic started, the single-week high for unemployment claims nationally was 695,000 in October 1982 ... but the last four weeks, the number of claims have been 4.4 million, 5.2 million, 6.6 million, and 6.8 million.
  • So, the truth is every state is facing the same problems but New York State IS serving unemployed New Yorkers -- over $3.1 billion in unemployment benefits [labor.ny.gov] have been distributed to more than 1.1 million New Yorkers since the COVID19 crisis began (as of 4/17). Compare this to:
  • We've also launched an entire new system -- for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) -- in just a matter of weeks, DESPITE cumbersome Federal policies:
  • This is a Federal program that was signed into law on March 27th ... but regulations weren't issued until April 5th
  • The original regulations said that applicants had to apply for traditional unemployment insurance, be found ineligible, and THEN apply for PUA -- so we started working under that system
  • But as soon as the Federal government lifted that restriction, we immediately (on 4/20) launched a new, streamlined application that allows New Yorkers to apply for either traditional unemployment insurance or PUA, based on their eligibility.
  • And once again, New York was leading the nation on PUA -- California's PUA system won't go live until April 28th and Illinois' won't launch until May 11th
  • We've already made great strides in improving our systems, and there is more to come:
  • Website: In a typical week before COVID-19, our online application received 350,000 visits. We've now seen weeks with over 6 million visits. Here's what we've done to keep up with demand:
  • Launched a new online unemployment benefits application on 4/10, which is supported by Google Cloud infrastructure and can scale to meet demand
  • Increased the number of servers supporting our website from just 4 to over 60
  • Rolled out an updated application on 4/20 that allows New Yorkers to apply for either unemployment insurance or PUA seamlessly
  • Since the new application launched on 4/10, the website has functioned as planned, without any unscheduled downtime -- and our team continues to update the site and application as needed
  • Phone system: In a typical week before COVID-19, our phone system received 50,000 calls. We've now seen weeks with over 8 million calls. Here's how we've increased our capacity:
  • Dedicated over 3,000 DOL representatives to the phones seven days a week -- up from just 400 per day, five days a week, before the crisis
  • Launched a "call back" initiative on 4/10 where DOL representatives will call New Yorkers with partially-completed applications. Since then, over 600,000 proactive calls have been made.
  • Increased the number of phone ports from 1,000 to 10,000
  • We continue to add members to this team to increase our capacity