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DOL says calls to jobless New Yorkers may show up as 'Private caller'

Alisha Koenig, 35, of Brookhaven. She is unemployed

Alisha Koenig, 35, of Brookhaven. She is unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis, and she has been unable to get through on the phone to obtain unemployment benefits. Credit: Alisha Koenig

The state Department of Labor said it placed calls to 200,000 New Yorkers from Friday through Sunday night as part of its new "don't call us, we'll call you" procedure for handling jobless claims.

DOL encouraged those who have filed applications for unemployment insurance to be on the lookout for the calls, which may show a caller ID that simply says "Private caller." 

“Like many across the Empire State, the majority of our staff are working from home, and New Yorkers may see an incoming caller ID that lists ‘Private caller,’” state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement.

“I want to encourage New Yorkers to answer these calls so we can complete your application and connect you with the benefits you deserve,” she said.

DOL changed its procedure last week after tens of thousands of workers laid off because of the coronavirus shutdown filed applications and were directed to call the agency to complete their claims, overwhelming the phone system.

Barbara Levine, 89, of Oceanside, said Monday she has yet to receive a call.

“I haven’t heard a thing from unemployment. They didn’t call,” said Levine, who was laid off about a month ago from her job as a telemarketer for an insurance company. She had been calling 50 times a day, she said.

Levine said she was skeptical about the new procedure. 

“Whatever they’re saying, it’s not coming through,” she said. She hasn’t missed a call since Friday. “As far as I’m concerned it’s not working for me.”

Alisha Koenig, 35, of Brookhaven, said she has yet to get a call, but she has received two recorded calls alerting her to expect a call. The first came on Friday, telling her she would receive a call within 72 hours. That didn’t happen. On Sunday she received another automated call saying she would receive a call in 72 hours.

“I’m hoping to get a phone call and get this resolved,” Koenig said.

A new online application process, rolled out Thursday night, has fewer questions and does not require applicants to call the Labor Department to finish a claim. Instead, DOL staffers will call applicants within 72 hours if more information is needed.

The agency has also added staff, computer servers and phone lines to handle the unprecedented volume of claims.

The Labor Department said New Yorkers who filed claims under the old system and were told to call in should stop calling and expect to hear from DOL soon. 

To help prevent possible fraud, DOL staffers who call will verify their identity by providing the date an applicant filed their application and the type of claim that was filed, "which is information only our representatives would have access to,"  officials said.

Nathen Christian, 26, of Coram, said the new system raised his hopes “a bit," but his bank account is now running in the red.

Even though he hasn’t received a call, he speculated that DOL staffers had such a backlog of people to contact that they would get to him within days.

Christian said he doesn’t usually answer calls from unknown "private caller" numbers, “but now I will.”

— With Craig Schneider

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