BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — During a visit to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Institure, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked by 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ali Touhey about the large number of people who say they never got the promised call-back from the Department of Labor to complete their application for unemployment benefits.
"There is nothing worse than being unemployed and nervous about a paycheck. Then you call for unemployment benefits and can't get through on the phone. I get it. I get it," said the governor.
Cuomo said 1,000 people, along with Google and other experts, are working 7-days/week to fix problems with the Department of Labor's website and phone system which has been overwhelmed by demand.
"There were so many unemployment claims that it collapsed the unemployment department's website and phone system. This is 100-times anything we have ever done before," added Cuomo.
While understanding people's frustration, the Governor reassured everyone who has received approval but no benefits yet. "Just because you couldn't make the call today, it doesn't mean you won't get the benefit. You will get the benefit. It is just an annoying delay," explained Cuomo, who said the benefits are retroactive.
7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly spent the day talking with people who say they have been attempting to finalize their unemployment application process since mid-March. Despite promises that someone from the Department of Labor will call within 72-hours, the calls don't happen.
"It is a mess. I am not happy with the way things have been run," said Mary Ann Rich, a grandmother from East Amherst who is raising two children age 10 and 15. Rich was a kitchen worker at Heim Middle School, Williamsville before the pandemic closed schools. "They say they are going to call you back in 72 hours but nobody ever calls."
"People need to live. People need to pay bills," added Maria Korhummel. The widow had returned to work at the Grand Island Family Optical Center after recovering from double-breast cancer when the virus crisis put her off-the-job.
Korhummel was initially approved for benefits, but when no one called to finish her claim, she refiled hoping for answers. "I never received a phone call back. So, I said 'this is crazy.' What am I supposed to do?"
While the governor is promising that things will be eventually rectified, some like Korhummel are losing hope in the NYS unemployment system. "Are we going to be back to work before we see the light at the end of the tunnel for money?"
The NYS Department of Labor recently unveiled a streamlined application process for people seeking unemployment benefits. You can read more about that by clicking on this link.
A spokesperson for the Department of Labor said the backlog of cases for unemployment benefits has been greatly reduced. During the peak, the backlog was 275,000 people which has dropped to 4,305. As a result, the spokesperson said the 72-hour call-back rule has been changed to no timetable. A representative will call if more information is needed to finish an application.
For those with questions, it should be easier to call the Department of Labor now that self-employed, independent contractors, and farmers (among others) no longer need to apply and be denied for traditional unemployment insurance before applying for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The change went into effect on April 20th.
"I have been unemployed before myself, and I understand the pain, fear and anxiety New Yorkers are facing. 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," NYS Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said.
Statistics released by the Department of Labor shows unemployment in March 2020 increased from the same time last year for the Buffalo/Niagara region.