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Labor Department to update online unemployment application due to high volume of responses

FILE PHOTO: People gather at the entrance for the New York State Department of Labor offices, which closed to the public due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., March 20, 2020. (REUTERS/Andrew Kelly)

BY GRANT LANCASTER

To better handle the unprecedented increase in applications for unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s Department of Labor plans to update the online system to make it easier for New Yorkers to apply.

Online applications will be unavailable from 5-7 p.m. Thursday while the system reboots and applies the updates, according to a Thursday press release.

The updates include beefing up the system so that it can handle more applicants at once, allowing users to save an application in progress and resume later, support for smartphones and tablets and streamlining some questions to make them easier to understand.

Most applicants should be able to complete their applications online, but those who must submit additional information will now be instructed to wait for a department employee to call them, instead of having to call the department.

New Yorkers who were told to call the department under the old process should wait for department employees to call them. The department increased its call center staff from 400 to 1,000 to support the increased number of claims, with plans to add 1,200 more staffers.

“We know that your livelihood depends on it, and we assure you that you will get your benefits,” said Roberta Reardon, NYS Department of Labor Commissioner.

Since the start of the viral outbreak, the unemployment filing system has had an up to 16,000% increase in phone calls during peak weeks and up to 1,600% more web traffic, according to the release.

Before the pandemic, the department’s online systems were supported by four web servers, but they have increased the number to 60 servers to handle the increased demand.

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