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NY labor chief: $9B in unemployment benefits paid, agency working through backlog
UNEMPLOYMENT

NY labor chief: $9B in unemployment benefits paid, agency working through backlog

New York workers affected by the coronavirus-induced economic crisis have received more than $9.2 billion in unemployment benefits in 2 1/2 months — over four times the total paid out by the state in 2019. 

The amount, which was revealed by state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon during a conference call with reporters on Monday, highlights the massive impact of the economic shutdown on New York workers and how it strained an unemployment system that wasn't built for such a catastrophe. 

Reardon broke down the numbers: New York has paid approximately $836 million per week in unemployment benefits, or about $5 million per hour, since early March. By comparison, the state paid $2.1 billion in unemployment benefits in 2019. 

The state Department of Labor faced criticism after many New Yorkers complained they didn't receive their benefits. In news stories and social media posts, several unemployed residents said their claim was pending and couldn't contact the department. The volume of calls overwhelmed the phone system. The website would be unavailable due to the number of New Yorkers attempting to apply for benefits. 

There were improvements to the application — the state partnered with Google Cloud to streamline the process — and the state added employees to handle a large number of calls to the unemployment hotline. 

Reardon, who said that New York took "decisive and quick action" to process applications, acknowledged the challenges of responding to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. She noted that more than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment. The national jobless rate is 14.7%. 

"All of these numbers are heartbreaking," Reardon said. "$9.2 billion paid in just 2 1/2 months is good because it means millions of New Yorkers are getting support. But it also means millions of New Yorkers are unemployed." 

As New York appears to have assisted countless New Yorkers who had difficulties accessing their benefits, others are still waiting for help. 

For the first time on Monday, Reardon provided details about the unemployment backlog — the people who filed claims, but haven't received any money.

According to Reardon, 1.2 million applications were submitted between March 2 and April 22 that have been approved by the Department of Labor and are now considered payable claims. Those who've had their claims approved can receive their benefits if they submit weekly certifications, a federal requirement. 

The certifications inform the Department of Labor of how many days you worked in a given week and helps calculate the weekly benefits you will receive. Those approved for benefits can be paid for up to four "effective days." An effective day is a full day of unemployment. 

But the backlog isn't limited to those who have already been approved for benefits. Reardon said about 50,000 people applied for unemployment insurance, but it was determined they aren't eligible for traditional benefits. The state Department of Labor has contacted them and explained how to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program administered by the states to help self-employed individuals, independent contractors and others who aren't eligible for unemployment insurance. 

Another 16,000 claims are being processed and should be payable soon or the department may need more information from the applicant, Reardon explained. The information is important because it can verify the claimant's identity and prevent fraud. 

There are at more than 23,000 applications that the state hasn't processed because critical information is missing. A majority of the partial claims the state has received, Reardon said, are missing federal employer identification numbers — information that is required on the unemployment claim. 

The state Department of Labor has improved its communication systems to contact unemployed New Yorkers about the status of their claim or to request more information. For those approved for unemployment insurance and missed past payments, an online back certification system was established for New Yorkers to file certifications they missed. 

In less than two weeks since the new system was set up, Reardon said approximately $290 million has been paid to nearly 180,000 New Yorkers. 

"That is a massive number," Reardon said, "and we will continue to use this new system to ensure New Yorkers receive every dollar that they are eligible for." 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.

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