Unemployment problems have a Buffalo small business owner worried about her future

NYS acknowledges "crushing" overload but promises more improvements
Posted at 6:15 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 19:03:37-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — 2020 has been a very difficult year for Arlene Kaye-Wasserman from Buffalo. Her husband of 32-years, Marc, died unexpectedly on February 28th. She was forced to close her small business because of Covid-19 in mid-March. And despite weeks of trying, she has been unable to get her New York State unemployment benefits.

"I haven't even had time, as they say, to properly mourn," she told Reporter Ed Reilly.

Kaye-Wasserman owns a small sewing business called "Fashion Lab NY" on Hertel Avenue in the city. The business works with young people teaching them about sewing and fashion.

With her husband's income gone and her business shut down, Kaye-Wasserman thought the New York State unemployment system would keep her afloat financially. Instead, it has been weeks of frustration and no benefits. "You can't imagine how stressful it is to just keep calling the number over, and over, and over again."

Kaye-Wasserman said she calls everyday with no result. She also applied three times because there was no way of knowing what the status of her claim is. When the Buffalo woman does get through on the phone, the system disconnects. "They ask me to put in my social security number and my code, and I get hung-up on."

To try and 'Make Ends Meet' and pay her bills, Kaye-Wasserman is now making and selling face masks for some income. Click on this link to learn more.

Normally, she could count on her popular summer camps about fashion to generate revenue. This year, it is unknown if those will happen or if they will have to be conducted in a 'virtual' manner.

The business owner reached out to 7 Eyewitness News for help because she worries, without the benefits, she might be forced to close "Fashion Lab NY."

Ch7 sent her concerns to the NYS Labor Department which has a policy of not discussing individual cases. However, a spokesperson for the department said she would "elevate this to our UI team to have them look into what is happening."

The spokesperson said applying multiple times can slow the processing of a claim "significantly" because of duplicates in the system.


During a press conference with Governor Andrew Cuomo and a press call with Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, it was pointed out how the huge numbers of people seeking benefits is unlike anything seen since the Great Depression.

"We have administered three-times more than what the State put out all of last year," explained Governor Cuomo.

The Labor Department said one of the problems is people not doing the required weekly certifications, as called for under federal law.

A press release from the Labor Department said, "Now, the Department of Labor has 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."

A new process is being implemented to help applicants do their certification online with emails from DOL explaining the process. The following is from the NYS Department of Labor"

"The new, streamlined system will allow New Yorkers to submit backdated certifications online, via a secure form that can be emailed directly to those with missing certifications. The DOL will begin emailing these forms next week and will continue to identify and reach out to individuals with missing weekly certifications to ensure they get their money - including via emails, phone calls, and physical letters based on the contact information provided. For future weeks, New Yorkers are reminded that certifying online is the easiest and fastest way to claim their benefits. You can certify by:

  • Entering your username and password.

  • Clicking the "Unemployment Services" button on the My Online Services page.

  • Then clicking "Claim Weekly Benefits" and following the instructions.

Those who cannot certify online should use the DOL's automated phone system by calling 1-888-581-5812 (for traditional unemployment insurance) or 1-833-324-0366 (for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance).

Officials realize that many people have no idea what the status of their claim is, especially because of the hard time they have in contacting the Labor Department. As a result, a new procedure is being put into place to better inform claimants of where their application is in the system.

"In the coming days, we are going to be rolling out a new effort to proactively inform New Yorkers about the status of their unemployment application using emails and text messages," said Commissioner Reardon.

The Labor Department said it is continuing to work towards improving its phone system by adding new technology and having 3,100 people dedicated to handling calls and processing applications.