ALBANY — The state Department of Labor announced Wednesday that its unemployment application backlog has been reduced to 7,580 applications as some Republican lawmakers call for an investigation into the way the department handled claims during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The department has processed more than 2 million applications and awarded more than $10 billion in benefits.
Those who do not qualify for traditional unemployment may apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Some state leaders criticized the Labor Department’s lack of efficiency.
“The state Department of Labor’s continued inability to correct the growing problems within New York’s broken unemployment system is unacceptable and has become a national disgrace,” state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, said. “This problem has been ongoing for weeks with still no end in sight. As our economy has crashed, unemployment has now exploded to 1.76 million New Yorkers. Unemployed workers unsure how they’ll pay for food for their families don’t want to hear more Albany bureaucratic doublespeak and empty promises. This problem needs to get fixed. Now. If there’s time for daily press conferences then there’s time to fix the system and get folks who are unemployed and hurting the help they so desperately need, deserve and have been waiting for.”
Jordan called for an audit of the Department of Labor by the state comptroller and the formation of a state legislative joint committee to conduct an investigation.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, also called for an investigation into how the department is handling unemployment claims.
“People are scared and people are hurting, and the problems caused by this pandemic are too complicated for one man to deal with,” Tague said. “As compassionate as the governor tries to seem during his self-aggrandizing press conferences, he does not know what it’s like to be a small farmer in upstate New York, or someone who has never been on unemployment before, and cannot properly represent and resolve the concerns of all people across this large and diverse state. There is work to be done on many issues, and to address these issues effectively we need the input of the people who live with them and represent them. I feel it is important to say that these investigations aren’t about politics, they’re about looking into the issues which have brought about financial hardship and loss of life and assuring this never happens again to our people.”
In New York, 562,766 applicants have received benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Those who qualify are also eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, an additional $600 per week available to those receiving benefits through traditional unemployment and also through the PUA program, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends benefits for an additional 13 weeks for those receiving benefits if the initial 26 weeks have expired.
During the week ending May 2, 27 states reported 6,121,221 individuals claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and 15 states reported 162,727 individuals claiming Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits.
“No one could have predicted the wave of unemployment applications that crashed over the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and every state is struggling — but New York has moved faster than any other state to address our backlog and get money into New Yorkers’ hands. To date, we have paid out over $10 billion during this crisis, compared to just $2.1 billion in total last year,” state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said. “Those claims that have been outstanding for weeks are ones that we simply cannot process — we have already attempted to contact all of these New Yorkers, and we will continue to try get in touch with everyone who applied so we can connect them with the benefits they are eligible for.”
Of the applications that were submitted prior to April 22, 1,194,933 have received benefits, 20,801 are awaiting certification and 7,580 are partial claims missing critical information needed for processing.
“The Department of Labor is unable to process these applications because they either contained incorrect or missing information, are duplicates, or had been abandoned by the claimant,” according to a department statement. “The Department of Labor has attempted to contact all of these New Yorkers and will continue trying to reach them to complete their application or close out their claim.”
The 20,081 applications that are processed but not paid are awaiting federally mandated weekly certifications, according to the department.
“By law, these certifications must be submitted before benefits are released,” according to the department. “The Department of Labor has proactively emailed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers reminding them to submit certifications and rolled out a new, secure online system that allows New Yorkers to easily submit prior weeks’ certifications that they had missed. Over 330,000 New Yorkers have used this new system to unlock more than $400 million in prior weeks’ benefits they had effectively left on the table.”
An additional 15,831 applications are going through the final stages of processing and will either become payable in the next few days or be flagged for further review. For the week ending May 9, the state’s unemployment filings increased by 1,489% compared to 2019. In each of the state’s 10 labor market regions, the filings increased by at least 734%.
Columbia and Greene counties are part of the Capital Region labor market, which experienced a 1,394% increase in filings for the week ending May 9 when compared to 2019. Columbia County’s filings were up 1,643% and Greene County’s increased by 947%, according to the state Department of Labor.
Industries with the greatest increases in filings included “other” services at 3,177%, educational services at 2,531%, accommodation and food services at 2,525%, health care and social assistance at 1,889% and retail trade at 1,869%, according to the state Department of Labor.
On a federal level, the filings for the week of May 16 actually decreased from the previous week by 249,000, bringing the number of claims to 2,438,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
New York ranked among the top states for highest unemployment rate for the week ending May 2, with a rate of 19.6 and among the top states for the largest increase in filings for the week ending May 9 with an increase of 4,309.
On May 8, the state Department of Labor launched a new program enabling applicants to be notified of the status of their claim via text and email.
To combat the high volume, applicants follow an alphabetical system when filing for unemployment according to the first letter of their last name.
Letters A-F can file on Mondays, G-N file on Tuesdays, O-Z file on Wednesdays, and if you missed your day to file, you can file Thursday through Saturday.
The Telephone Claim Center has extended its hours to include 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.