Petition urges fix to unemployment claims system

State Sen. Patritica A. Ritchie, center, speaks during a press conference at Sandy Pond Beach in Sandy Creek. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie has launched an online petition demanding that the state fix its unemployment claims system and address claims that have gone unfilled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said in a statement Friday that her office has fielded thousands of phone calls from constituents struggling to file for unemployment benefits. In some cases, she said, some people have been waiting nearly two months for payment or answers from the state Department of Labor.

“I fully understand these are unprecedented times and that the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) is under immense pressure,” Sen. Ritchie said. “However, hundreds of the people contacting my office filed claims nearly two months ago and have yet to see a dime — or even get a call back — from DOL. With every day that passes it becomes more apparent that there are major issues with the system. This issue, and the struggle of these people, needs more attention.”

In addition to people waiting months for their claims to be processed, many people have expressed other frustrations about their experience with applying for benefits, the statement said. Recently, people have reached out to the senator’s office to say that they have received the personal information of other people in the mail from DOL, including their Social Security numbers.

Others have been hung up on after being put on hold for lengthy amounts of time or have waited 6 to 8 weeks for a simple callback, after being promised a return phone call from DOL within 72 hours. Those who have received calls have shared that representatives say they are unable to assist because they are working from home and that people need to “be patient.”

Sen. Ritchie said that in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has enlisted the help of industry titans such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to address issues relating to health care, the economy and education.

On Thursday, Sen. Ritchie released a statement calling for DOL Commissioner Roberta Reardon to resign and requested the governor’s administration appoint an individual with a similar cache to lead an effort to address the backlog in unemployment claims.

She said that in response, a spokesman for the governor “offered no answers or solutions and instead called Sen. Ritchie a “cheap politician.”

“People are suffering — and now is not the time for name-calling,” Sen. Ritchie said. “Now is the time for action. Every day I’m talking to people who filed in March but haven’t seen a dime yet. They have been left in limbo and it breaks my heart. The state needs to step up and take action immediately to address this major issue.

Those wishing to sign the petition can do so at Supporters are also encouraged to share the petition on social media with the hashtag, -fixtheDOLdisaster.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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