Health concerns and economic issues continue to plague New York State in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a number of complex matters that will continue to receive attention, both in the short term and for weeks and months down the road. One particularly troubling issue that needs to be resolved, and resolved quickly, is the breakdown of the Department of Labor’s unemployment benefit system.
At a time when individuals and families need the state to come through for them they are instead left hurting and in the dark. Many people have been waiting weeks, even months, for essential unemployment benefits to feed their families and maintain some semblance of a normal life. The inability of the Department of Labor to process these claims is nothing short of a disaster. This is a crisis we cannot tolerate any longer.
Every day my office hears from constituents, many in tears, who have no idea where to turn. They have made hundreds of calls to the Department of Labor, filled out online forms, and are still waiting to receive essential benefits that they deserve. Many of these individuals have drained their savings and have bills that are piling up. They want to get back to work, but in the interim, they should not be left feeling desperate and helpless because of the state’s failed response. While the state has reportedly spent nearly $88 million on high-end firm Deloitte to overhaul the DOL call system and for 200 firm employees, desperate unemployed New Yorkers still cannot get through or have legitimate filings stuck in the system.
I have joined with members of the Senate Republican Conference in calling for the following immediate steps to be taken:
• The governor must streamline application certifications and allow applicants to “certify” upon application, while still providing appropriate safeguards to help ensure that benefits only go to eligible New Yorkers;
• In addition to the 3,000 employees currently working phones, the DOL must collaborate with other state agencies to train thousands more of the state’s workforce, who are staying at home, to rapidly field calls and help New Yorkers file to receive benefits immediately;
• New York State Comptroller DiNapoli, who oversees payments, contracts, and finances in the state, should be empowered to provide emergency oversight and assistance to DOL;
• Comptroller DiNapoli should conduct an immediate, fast-track audit of the DOL’s procedures and administration of the program; and
• A state legislative joint committee should conduct an immediate review and investigation into DOL’s failed handling of unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic.
Earlier, I joined with other legislators in a bipartisan effort calling for an audit by the State Comptroller and a State Legislative Joint Committee investigation into the state Department of Labor’s handling of unemployment benefit applications in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The findings of the comptroller and the joint legislative committees need to be made public to ensure that not only has the issue been addressed, but also that the state can put in place the necessary procedures to resolve those issues so that moving forward such missteps can be avoided. It is imperative that given the dire warnings that another wave of COVID-19 infections is a real possibility that we are prepared in the future.
As we prepare to re-open our economy, I continue to support a commonsense regional approach. Local officials and business owners are hard at work structuring plans that take into account the specifics of their communities that they know and understand. The governor’s office and Empire State Development need to take these carefully developed proposals as we move forward. Health and public safety guidelines also must be implemented as we make this transition.
As always, you can review health guidelines and other key updates to state regulations on the New York State Health Department website at coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home.