Technology Aids Labor Department

Desirée Keegan

In reaction to the breakdown at the New York State Department of Labor in handling the blizzard of new unemployment claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire application system was shut down at 5 PM on April 9, to allow for the installation of a revamped, reworked operation. The changeover was done as a result of the department partnering with Google, Deloitte, and Verizon.

The state’s Department of Labor has experienced a 16,000-percent increase in phone calls and web traffic in recent weeks.

Massive changes to accommodate this include an increase of servers, from four to 60, and simplifying and streamlining the application process, according an April 9 press release, which called the changes a “tech surge.” Key was the ability to leverage Google Cloud’s infrastructure to “increase reliability and allow the application to scale, so it can handle a high volume of users,” the release sated.

The system now allows claimants to fill out the department’s easier-to-understand application using a multitude of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. After creating a user ID, an applicant can stop mid-form, save the results, and come back later to finish.

Deloitte, an accounting organization and the largest professional services network in the world by revenue and number of professionals with headquarters in London, United Kingdom, is opening an additional unemployment insurance call center for the department, staffed by hundreds of customer service professionals, which the department said will “dramatically increase the number of calls that can be handled.” Deloitte said it is adding 1200 customer service professionals, on top of the 1000 now in place.

At the same time, Verizon is expanding the number of phone ports for the call center from 1750 to over 10,000.

The Department of Labor is instituting a call-back feature, which allows state representatives to call New Yorkers with incomplete unemployment insurance applications to finish them by phone. The department assures it will reach out to applicants who use the feature.

New applicants file claims based on the first letter of their last name. The system works as follows: last names beginning with A through F apply on Monday, G through N on Tuesday, and O through Z Wednesday. Thursday through Sunday is open to all new applicants.

All these changes do not affect those currently receiving unemployment benefits. Because of the financial carnage caused by the novel coronavirus-forced statewide shutdown of all nonessential businesses, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the state’s Department of Labor to begin the distribution of $600 weekly federal payments last week to all those who were in the system and unemployed as of April 5, despite the fact that the state had not yet technically received the funding from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act.

The number of weeks an unemployed worker can collect has been increased from 26 to 39 weeks as a result of the pandemic. That applies to anyone on the unemployment rolls, including those whose claims predate COVID-19.

The additional weekly federal payment of $600 is on top of whatever a claimant is receiving from the state, and is currently scheduled to continue through the end of July.

The state Department of Labor can be reached by calling 1-888-209-8124 or logging in at

[email protected]

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