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7 Eyewitness News helps Hamburg massage therapist get her back UI benefits

After nearly 9 weeks without income, money is finally coming in
Posted at 6:24 PM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 21:10:07-04

HAMBURG, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — Less than 24-hours after 7 Eyewitness News broadcast a story about her 9-week-long struggle to get NYS unemployment benefits (UI), Lisa Plaster was informed that her benefits, including retroactive unemployment benefits, will be deposited into her account next week.

Reporter Ed Reilly had contacted the New York State Department of Labor on her behalf to see what was causing the holdup. The Labor Department had its unemployment team look into the situation which then resulted with Plaster's benefits being released.

"I feel happy and joyful and I haven't felt this way in so long," said Lisa Plaster after receiving a call from the NYS Department of Labor on Thursday May 14.

Plaster is a licensed medical massage therapist and runs a small business called "Advanced Massage Therapy" in Hamburg. She has been shut down because of the 'NY on Pause' Executive Order since March 9.

While she is thrilled with the idea of being able to finally pay her bills, Plaster is disappointed that she still cannot get a waiver to open to help her many patients that are dealing with pain.

Contrary to perception, massage is not just for relaxation. Many people in WNY count on medical massage to help control chronic pain caused by car accidents, injuries, disease and surgery - but many of those patients are now suffering as massage therapy is not considered an essential business during the Covid-19 crisis.

"It is debilitating for people. They are crying They are in pain and need us," said Lisa Plaster, a licensed massage therapist and owner of Advanced Massage Therapy in Hamburg. Plaster said she gets calls daily from her patients looking for help in managing their pain without having to resort to opioid pain killers.

Advanced Massage Therapy has around 175 clients with about 90% of them having a prescription from local doctors to use medical massage to control their pain.

"It is just very hard to deal . . . very hard to live," said one of Plaster's patients with a lower spine injury who spoke with 7 Eyewitness New Reporter Ed Reilly.

Massage therapy is shut down under the 'NY on Pause' Executive Order from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Plaster said she understood the shutdown at first, but when chiropractors were allowed to operate, she wondered why medical massage therapists could not? "Chiropractors will often do a massage before they do an adjustment, but there are a lot people who can't go to a chiropractor," said Plaster.

The massage therapist feels she can operate safely using masks, gloves, and temperature checks. She has tried multiple times to get a waiver from Empire State Development to open. "I have sent in an application just about daily and I haven't heard anything yet."

Making things even more confusing, Plaster is unable to get an answer on which phase of reopening in NY will include medical massage therapy. "You mandated that we shut down but you are not helping us. I almost feel like we have been forgotten," added the exasperated small business owner.

7 Eyewitness News contacted both the NYS Department of Labor and Empire State Development about her situation. The Labor Department responded saying it would look into Plaster's claim for unemployment benefits, and followed through with results the next day when it informed Plaster her retroactive benefits will be deposited in a couple days time.

As to the status of her attempts to get a waiver to open, 7 Eyewitness News contacted Empire State Development with sent the following reply:

"Currently, under the essential business guidance, massage therapy is considered non-essential. Businesses should continue to check the website https://forward.ny.gov/ [forward.ny.gov] to determine when their particular business will be able to open in their region. Empire State Development has received tens of thousands of inquiries requesting guidance on essential business and are working around the clock to answer them as quickly as possible."

"I am just going to keep on trying," said Plaster, who added that massage therapists from acoss NYS have been contacting her after hearing about the CH7 news story and seeing it in Facebook. "Hopefully you are the voice for all of us, We appreciate you doing this," said Plaster.

RETROACTIVE NYS UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS:

For others waiting for their unemployment benefits, the NYS Department of Labor sent the following information:

Quote From New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon "No New Yorker should miss receiving their benefits because of red tape – so we announced efforts to help nearly half a million of our neighbors get their backdated benefits faster and easier. We will continue to think outside of the box and find creative solutions to the most common roadblocks to benefits New Yorkers face, and we will not rest until everyone has been served."

  • Last week, the Department of Labor identified 470,084 New Yorkers with complete, processed and payable claims who had previously missed nearly 700,000 previous weekly certifications, preventing them from receiving their payments in prior weeks. If these individuals had claimed their previous weeks' benefits, they would have received an additional $480 million.
  • In response, we launched a streamlined process [protect2.fireeye.com] for submitting previous weeks' certifications - also known as backdated certifications - allowing these New Yorkers to get paid easier and faster. They no longer have to call to back certify. Previously backdated certifications could only be done over the phone with a live DOL representative -- but this new system allows them to be done online much faster.
  • The DOL is using DocuSign’s secure digital signature technology to help New Yorkers get their backdated payments. If New Yorkers receive an email, they should fill out the form, and submit it online so that we can get them the benefits they are eligible for as quickly as possible.
  • On background, every claim is unique. However, once the individual completes the back certifications, typically the money will be released within a few days.
  • When the back payments are released, all of the back payments should be released on the same day. They will probably not show up as one large payment, but in multiple payments issued throughout that day.