ALBANY — Overwhelmed by a barrage of applications for jobless benefits, the state Labor Department said it has beefed up its ability to process the paperwork and cut down on delays, which have caused frustration for thousands of New Yorkers.

The agency reported it has 1,000 staffers fielding calls from people seeking unemployment benefits after being laid off during the economic downturn and business closures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new "call back" system, intended to streamline the application process, is being introduced to eliminate a previous step that required New Yorkers to call a hotline in order to complete the filing for benefits.

With the new system, agency staffers will "proactively" call those who need to submit additional information to support their applications, Department of Labor officials said.

The previous requirement that applicants successfully make telephone contact with the agency to confirm their personal information helped to jam the agency's switchboards and bring about delays.

The surge in New York applications for the benefits mirrored the situation faced by numerous states after more than 10 million Americans indicated they lost their jobs in the last two weeks of March and another 6.6 million were laid off last week.

“I recognize that this is an extremely challenging time for all New Yorkers,” state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said. “I have been unemployed. I understand the urgency. We want you to be aware of the steps that we are taking to respond to each of you, as quickly as we can. We know that your livelihood depends on it and we assure you that you will get your benefits.”

State mapping data shows initial claims for unemployment soared in all regions of the state in the week ending April 4.

When compared with the same period one year earlier, claims increased by 2,233 percent in Western New York. For the North Country and the Mohawk Valley regions, they grew by 1,908% and 2,139%, respectively. In Southern Tier counties, the initial claims surged by 2,410%.

To improve the state's ability to deal with the influx of applications, the Department of Labor has formed partnerships with several high-tech companies, including Google, Verizon and Deloitte.

To apply for the benefits or to learn more about eligibility requirements, information is available at this state web page at https://www.ny.gov/services/get-unemployment-assistance.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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