New York lawmakers look at COVID-19 effects on labor, unemployment


FILE – In this Wednesday, March 18, 2020 file photo, Visitors to the Department of Labor are turned away at the door by personnel due to closures over coronavirus concerns in New York. Americans are seeking unemployment benefits at unprecedented levels due to the coronavirus, but many are finding more frustration than relief. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York State lawmakers took a look at the coronavirus’s impact on the workforce and unemployment during another virtual hearing on Thursday.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early March, the Department of Labor has paid almost $40 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 3.3 million New Yorkers,” New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said.

Reardon said that amounts to “18 years worth of benefits” in the course of about five months. She said during a peak week in March, the Department received more than eight million calls. 

“The surge of applications crashed on New York like a wave pushing our systems to the brink,” she said.

To deal with the volume, the Department launched a new application with Google and increased the number of representatives to 7,000 people. While Reardon said the department essentially has no backlog right now, some lawmakers were critical about the amount of time it took for the Department to ramp up the system. 

Reardon said she’s “very prepared” for the future.

“We know what we’re doing now with the improved systems that we’ve got. We’ve got a trained pool of workers not just in the DOL but across the state workforce and in the world of vendors,” Reardon said. 

While the unemployment situation has improved for some, others who work in or own gyms, movie theaters, and bowling alleys are still feeling financial pains. During a press conference, State Senator Sue Serino said, “All of us here believe that public health and safety must always be our top priority. What we are asking for is for the rules set by the state to be applied fairly across the board; for the state to communicate clearly with these businesses and for the state to release the guidelines they desperately need to reopen safely.”

State lawmakers also asked the labor commissioner about when DOL offices would be reopening so that people who aren’t able to figure out the unemployment system could get in-person help. She said the Department is looking at it.


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