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Unemployment Coverage Expanded Through State

The rapid onset of the coronavirus outbreak has inundated state governments across the country with unemployment insurance claims in the several weeks.

Efforts are underway to increase New York state’s ability to process claims, while federal mandates from the CARES Act are being implemented to expand coverage and direct relief assets to businesses in need.

“If you think about going from roughly 50,000 calls in a week to 1.7 million, the system is crashing. It just can’t handle the volume,” said Katie Geise, executive director of the Chautauqua Workforce Investment Board.

Geise and the Investment Board primarily deal with reemployment efforts, connecting workers to businesses in Chautauqua County and vice versa. In the weeks since the coronavirus outbreak, Geise has been involved with briefings with New York state officials about the ongoing struggle to handle unemployment claims.

“All unemployment insurance claims, every single claim that comes in is reviewed and determined eligible or not eligible by the unemployment insurance division which can only be accessed online or by phone,” Geise said. “Individuals, that is their first focus. They want to get money in their pocket, and that’s what I would be doing too.”

Everyone wishing to file an unemployment insurance claim should do so by calling the state office at 1-888-209-8124 or by visiting labor.ny.gov/unemploymentassistance.shtm.

Workers should file claims based on the first letter of their last name, A-F on Mondays, G-N on Tuesdays, O-Z on Wednesdays, with anyone missing their filing day filing on Thursday-Saturday. The office has extended telephone hours to Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In response to the increased volume, New York state is hiring new claims workers and attempting to streamline the process.

“New York State Department of Labor, myself, all of my colleagues from across the state. We have weekly calls with the leadership at the New York State Department of Labor. We are sharing all of the stories that we are hearing, they are well aware of it, and they are working around the clock to try to make the system more accessible. They are hiring staff, again this can’t happen overnight,” Geise said. “They have minimized the application to make that easier to review. So it is quicker for the applicant but it is also quicker for the workers in the UI division. They are really trying absolutely everything and they are trying to do it really quickly.” Under the CARE Act, new groups of workers will also be eligible for special pandemic unemployment insurance.

“You add in individuals who historically have not been eligible for unemployment insurance. These people are self-employed, your independent contractors,” she continued. “Think about, every single hair salon had to close down. All of those individuals typically are considered self employed or independent contractors. They are all now eligible for the pandemic unemployment assistance per the CARES Act. So that is going to increase that volume of individuals contacting the claims center on top of all the regular UI claimants that lost their jobs and were traditionally eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.”

Increased insurance coverage under the federal mandate is using existing state infrastructure to handle the new program.

In order to receive PUI, workers should still follow the same pathway through the state labor office by filing a regular claim. If you are denied a regular unemployment insurance claim, you can then be shifted over to the PUI claim pathway. Speaking with state labor officials, Geise was not able to get clarification on if this shift in claims would be automatic or if workers will need to file a separate PUI claim themselves. She advised that everyone serve as their own advocate.

“I completely empathize with every single individual that is trying to file a claim, and I empathize with every single business that is simply trying to figure out, how am I going to make it from today to whatever our new normal is?” Geise said.

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