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A whopping number of LIers — 52,390 —filed for unemployment last week

Sandy Camillo of Manhasset spent Thursday trying to

Sandy Camillo of Manhasset spent Thursday trying to file for unemployment benefits but said she couldn't get through on the website or phone lines. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Camillo

Unemployment claims on Long Island shot up 3,600% last week compared with the same week last year, according to a state Labor Department report released Thursday.

There were 52,390 new claims filed in the week ended March 28, compared to 1,414 a year ago, the state said.  That gave the Island the largest percentage increase in new claims of any region in the state.

Statewide, 369,025 New Yorkers filed for unemployment benefits last week, up from 80,509 just the week before,  the department said.

“It looks like we’re going to be breaking records for the next few weeks,” said Richard Vogel, dean of the school of business and professor of economics at Farmingdale State College.

The record-shattering number of claims, however, only reflects those who have been able to file for unemployment. Many New Yorkers who have lost their jobs are fighting through a deluge of busy signals or disconnecting phone lines at the Labor Department, as well as contending with the agency's frequently crashing website.

The department received more than 8.2 million phone calls last week, overwhelming the agency's staff, which would normally receive around 50,000 calls a week. Its website received 3.4 million web hits during the same period, when 350,000 is the norm.

The department has said it is "committed to getting everyone their benefits and will even retroactively date your claim so that you are not financially penalized." 

Many Long Islanders said they are growing anxious over their inability to get through and file their claims.

Sandy and John Camillo of Manhasset said they spent hours Thursday trying to file for unemployment insurance for Sandy but were blocked at every turn.

Sandy Camillo, who works as an independent compliance and governance consultant, was seeking work at nonprofit organizations when the world seemed to pause under the COVID-19 pandemic. She said her contract as a consultant with the American Association of University Women ended last year.

John Camillo, a lawyer, lost his job last year with Kemper Insurance and received unemployment benefits, which ended in September.

The couple has been living off retirement benefits while searching for new income, and learned Sandy may be eligible for unemployment, now that benefits have been expanded to cover some freelance and gig workers. They have been quarantined at home for five weeks because Sandy has an immune disorder, she said.

When they tried to apply on the state’s website, they were first unable to log in and then given website error messages redirecting them to outdated browsers like Internet Explorer or Netscape.

“Of course, it’s telling me I’ve signed on too many times, because you’re not letting me in,” Sandy Camillo said.

The Camillos said they could not reach any state representatives by phone.

“Anything coming in would be helpful, but we’re not without food if we don’t get it,” Sandy Camillo said. “What about people not familiar with how to use a computer? What are those people doing, who really need money to eat?” 

Vogel, the Farmingdale State economist, said the Island's economy was strong at this time last year, with a low unemployment rate, contributing to the region's unfortunate first-place position as the area with the biggest year-over-year percentage increase in jobless claims. 

“We were doing very well and now everything has come to a screeching halt,” Vogel said.

Another factor, he said, is that with the recent passage of the federal stimulus package and expansion of unemployment benefits, many firms may be feeling that a greater safety net for furloughed employees is in place.  

“Firms may feel a little more comfortable making the decisions that need to be made, because the safety net is there,” he said. — with John Asbury

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