HAMBURG. N.Y. (WKBW) — The New York State Department of Labor says it has paid out $2.2 billion in unemployment insurance benefits to 1.1 million New Yorkers since the COVID-19 crisis began. The state has now streamlined the application process with more than 3,100 representatives "solely dedicated to answering unemployment benefit needs in the improved process."
The department said, in a press release, that the call backlog prior to April 8 was 275,000 people. That has has now dropped to 4,305.
However, not everyone applying for unemployment benefits is having an easy time of it. "I don't even know who to turn to because I can't even call the NYS Department of Labor and tell them someone is claiming my benefits because you can't get a hold of them," explained Jeanne DeMarco from Hamburg.
DeMarco is an occupational therapist who works in Buffalo Public Schools. She has been trying to get her unemployment benefits for more than five (5) weeks. "I would honestly like to be working, but at the moment, I have no options," said DeMarco.
One of the big issues concerning DeMarco is there is no way to verify if someone making a call-back from the NYS Department of Labor is actually who they say they are. "Anyone can say that and anyone can call you."
After finally being able to submit her online information, DeMarco said she received a call on Easter weekend from a person saying he wanted to finish the application procedure. The Hamburg woman gave him much of the information that she had previously submitted online, but became suspicious when the caller began to switch topics and asked her about being a 'Bills Fan.'
The call had come from a 518 area code. When DeMarco and her boyfriend google-searched it, it came back as "some random place in New York" that had been flagged by other online users as a possible scam call.
7 Eyewitness News reached out to the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) for guidance on how to tell if someone is really working for the department. A spokesperson said many DOL employees are now working remotely from home and it is possible for private numbers to show up, including a 518 area code in addition to the "Private" caller ID.
In addition, DOL said staff from other agencies/authorities, along with some outside vendors with customer service professionals, are also supporting the unemployment claim operation.
The following is from the NYS Department of Labor:
Protecting New Yorkers’ data and personal information is our number one priority. While our representatives usually call from a recognizable DOL number, during this time, many of them are working remotely, which means they may show up as calling from a “private” number. That's why we are reminding New Yorkers that anyone calling from the Department of Labor will verify their identity by providing the date claimants filed their Unemployment Insurance application and the type of claim they filed, which is information only our representatives would have access to. Our representatives may ask some personal information in order to verify the claimant’s identity and complete their application.
The New York State Department of Labor has a page dedicated to unemployment scams to beware of. You can view those alerts by clicking on this link.