So far, 1.5 million New Yorkers have received more than $5.8 billion in unemployment benefits since this pandemic began, according to the Department of Labor.
However, thousands are still waiting for their benefits including Chris Williams who has been waiting since March.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody, I haven’t received any money and that was almost eight weeks ago. It will be eight weeks on Monday,” Williams, who lives in upstate New York explained.
Williams says he was making 30 to 40 calls a day, trying to connect with someone at the Labor Department. After being told, processors would call him, he still has heard nothing back.
“I would love to go on hold personally, when it was an issue, if they were to put me on hold ... I would love to wait 45 minutes to an hour to talk to a human. That’s not a problem, I’ve got nothing to do anyway,” Williams said. “But the other number for other questions would just hang up on you. The phone lines are too busy, click, you’re done that was it.”
This lack of communication has prompted many lawmakers to also work around the clock answering calls from constituents about their claims.
According to administration officials, 1.8 million claims have been processed, but the total number of people that are still waiting for their benefits is uncertain at this time. Many people have filed multiple times or never finished their application.
But Deputy Senate Minority Leader Joe Griffo says it is most likely in the hundreds of thousands.
“They did have some comfort in knowing that they could speak to somebody even though they are still exacerbated by the experience. So we’re getting hundreds [of calls] a day and then thousands during the week,” Senator Griffo explained.
A group of lawmakers are calling for a joint legislative investigation into the Labor Department’s handling of these unemployment claims and an audit to be conducted by the Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
“People are facing such critical needs and are in such precarious circumstances beyond the health risks, but now they’re livelihoods are at risk, this is something that we have got to continue to do better,” Griffo said.
The Labor Department has increased its staff to 3,100 employees working seven days a week to process claims and created a new system to help people file missed weekly certifications.
But lawmakers and the people still waiting for their checks, say this is not enough.
“To not see it coming, to not be prepared for this. It baffles me,” Williams said.
In response to this call for an investigation by lawmakers, the administration spokesperson, Jack Sterne wrote.
“We’re moving faster and more aggressively in New York than any other major state ... Commissioner Reardon and thousands of state employees are working 24/7 to process applications and get New Yorkers their benefits, and we won’t let cheap shots from cheap politicians distract us from that work,” Sterne said.
The total amount the state has paid out in unemployment benefits in the last two months is almost three times the amount the state distributed all of last year.