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Report: State’s Unemployment System Showing Flaws Amid Pandemic

The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has been looking for ways to address the influx of unemployment applications during the COVID-19 pandemic, with responding to the huge influx in phone calls and verifying claims among the challenges.

State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon testified about the COVID-19 impact during a recent hearing, the Times Union reported.

“The surge of applications crashed on New York like a wave, pushing our systems to the brink,” Reardon said. “In a typical week before the coronavirus crisis, our call center averaged about 50,000 calls, but during the peak week in late March, our call center received over 8.2 million phone calls – a 16,000 percent increase.”

More than $41 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits have been distributed so far; however, the claims verification process has at times been flawed.

“Submit, submit, submit,” is how one department worker described the pressure to the Times Union. Directives apparently came from members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Chamber staff, who were working from the Harriman office building at the peak of the crisis.

“People (in the office) were told to submit claims without calling claimants and to fudge things that were always important to us, like (providing) their mother’s maiden name, which is our security question,” the worker said.

“We had high school students who had never worked a day in their life receiving $182 a week in benefits.”

The Cuomo administration and Labor Department have defended their response to the challenges.

DOL spokesman Peter Brancato told the Times Union that New York has been quicker than other large states to provide benefits and has prevented a record $1 billion in fraudulent claims.

“Over the last five months, we have used innovative solutions to speed processing time and increase fraud detection capabilities – and we will not apologize for our efforts to get $40 billion in benefits into over 3 million New Yorkers’ hands,” Brancato said.

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