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New York State unemployment calls surge by 16,000%, officials say

Suffolk County One-Stop Employment Center hosts a job

Suffolk County One-Stop Employment Center hosts a job fair at the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst March 6. During the week ending March 21, more than 80,500 New Yorkers filed for unemployment insurance, nearly 6 times the normal amount Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

The New York State Department of Labor received more than 8 million phone calls last week from New Yorkers looking to file unemployment claims, a massive increase over normal call volume, the agency said Tuesday.

Between Monday, March 23 and Saturday, March 28, the Department of Labor's phone system recorded over 8.2 million calls, “compared to just 50,000 in a typical week,” an increase of 16,000%, a department spokeswoman said.

The massive number of calls is a continuation of the unprecedented demand reported by labor officials last week amid the coronavirus crisis.

During the week ending Saturday, March 21, more than 80,500 New Yorkers filed for unemployment insurance, nearly 6 times the normal amount. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that more than 3.3 million Americans filed for benefit claims that same week.

The state Department of Labor has not yet released the number of unemployment claims for Long Island.

The unemployment filing rush has led to a great deal of frustration and worry among Long Islanders hoping to receive financial aid, prompting some to call hundreds of times a day to no avail.

One Bethpage woman said she’s called more than 2,000 times on behalf of her husband who filed for unemployment on March 15. Starting at around 7:30 a.m., the Long Islander said she’s averaged around 300 calls a day and has yet to speak to an unemployment processor.

The state’s unemployment website, too, has been inundated with web visits, leading to frequent crashes. The state’s online filing system received 3.4 million visits last week, compared to a typical 350,000 visits, a 900% increase, the DOL said

“Our system is not working as smoothly as I would like to see it. It's compounding people's stress,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during his afternoon press briefing Tuesday. “You're unemployed, you're trying to get on some darn website, you can't get through the website.”

The Labor Department said its strategy to meet the demand is a two-pronged approach to reduce volume and increase capacity.

To reduce demand, the agency is reminding applicants that delayed filings will still result in them receiving their entire benefit; asking New Yorkers to file claims only on their designated day; and automating portions of its process to reduce the number of reasons a filer would have to call.

To increase capacity, the department has reassigned “hundreds" of added staff from within DOL and incorporated workers from other agencies who are being on-boarded and trained; extended the processing of applications into Sundays; and added more than 20 servers to support web capacity.

“The site is so deluged that it keeps crashing because you literally have hundreds of thousands of people at any time trying to get on the site and it continues to crash,” Cuomo said. “I apologize for the pain — it must be infuriating to deal with. I am telling you we have every technology company working on it. We're spending a lot of money.”

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