Unemployment proves difficult for workers, businesses
FINGER LAKES--With unemployment numbers in America at their highest point since the Great Depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are reports of residents across the Finger Lakes having difficulty accessing unemployment benefits. State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, (R,C,I-Corning) said his office, which has been working remotely, has been spending 99.9 percent of its time trying to help residents get access to unemployment benefits.
"It is a frustrating, aggravating process and we are hearing from people that it has left in despair," said Palmesano. "I understand these are unprecedented times, this has never happened before. But the thing I get frustrated from is when people wait three, four, five and sometimes even six weeks for someone to get a call back (regarding benefits)."
Despite the assurance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that benefits, while delayed, will be fully paid-out when a claim is successfully filed, Palmesano said that is not good enough.
"That sounds nice but that doesn't help individuals struggling to make payments or choosing medicine they need to pick from," Palmesano said. "That gets frustrating and gets old."
State Senator Tom O'Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) said that his office has already gotten hundreds of phone calls regarding unemployment issues.
"The main issue is people are not getting the call back from the state department of labor to complete the application," O'Mara said. "It is very frustrating for myself and staff who are dealing with constituents in despair with no income for seven-plus weeks now."
According to a press release issued by O'Mara there are roughly 1.76 New Yorkers statewide who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. For those seeking unemployment benefits, many have reported a bevy of issues, along with not getting returned phone calls to complete the application according to O'Mara. Finger Lakes residents have reported issues ranging from being sent empty debit cards, payments that start then suddenly stop and more.
"And the representatives who are making the calls to residents who applied for unemployment are doing a very poor job of identifying themselves, many people think they are scammers," O'Mara added.
Palmesano said that he believes an investigation is warranted into state agencies charged with dispersing federal benefits during the crisis.
"We need to know where the problems are," Palmesano said.
Along with the issue of residents being unable to gain unemployment benefits, O'Mara and Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY 23) expressed concern that benefits are so good that once local workers being furloughed achieve them they won't want to go back to work until they expire in July.
Reed has publicly said that he is scared people will not want to go back to work when so many are making more than when they were employed. There is currently the $600 a week additional payment added to unemployment benefits in response to COVID.
O'Mara echoed that concern, saying, "I have heard from businesses around here that employees are asking to be furloughed, but individuals receiving that extra unemployment need to realize that it's a short term duration and that their job may not be there for them when that extra $600 a week runs out."
O'Mara added he has a philosophical problem with the additional $600 per week, saying people should not be getting more money than what they were making previous to the pandemic.
O'Mara said he would instead like to see wages increase in the region as a result of a stronger economy, something he said is impossible with so many businesses currently closed.
"I'm hoping that we are going to start getting the economy open starting [this] week, I think we should be taking a regional approach to this within the state and I have had that opinion all along," O'Mara said.
Palmesano agreed, saying the Finger Lakes is not New York City.
"Yes this is a public health crisis but it is also a fiscal crisis hurting local business, farmers, workers and families," Palmesano stated. "We can't have a one size fits all approach to reopening, we should be able to open in areas with lower infection rates. I was glad the governor has pivoted to that but we need more clarification and guidance from the state."