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Job Seekers Unable to Contact Labor Agents During Unemployment Crisis

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Frank Antinetto, a janitor from New York, has finally received his unemployment benefits after a six-month battle with the state’s Department of Labor. He initially filed for unemployment after being fired to take care of his daughter who was diagnosed with leukemia, but his claim was denied. Even after appealing the decision, he still faced challenges in receiving his benefits, which amounted to over $2,500 in retroactive payments and $360 per week going forward.

Antinetto’s struggle is not uncommon in New York, where up to 90 percent of unemployment applications are approved, but still, the state is in the top 15 for the highest rates of improper decisions. The Department of Labor’s focus on a tech-based overhaul, including the use of an AI-powered chatbot, Perkins, has been criticized by both staff and legal advocates. They argue that the system’s unresponsiveness is directly tied to the state’s high rate of improper denials and claim that many clients are not able to get through to the Department of Labor for assistance.

The pandemic has further exacerbated the crisis of unemployment in New York, overwhelming the Department of Labor’s systems and leading to billions of dollars lost to fraud. Critics argue that Commissioner Roberta Reardon’s focus on tech is an inadequate solution for the agency’s staffing and training shortages. The department encourages New Yorkers to use self-service options before calling, but advocates argue that it is crucial for claimants to connect with a professional who understands the system, especially for cases as complex as Antinetto’s.

The use of new technology to determine eligibility for unemployment has also faced criticism, with claims that the tech cannot replace the need for human assistance. Critics argue that the Department of Labor should focus on addressing its internal administrative issues and prioritize adequately trained staff over technology. This raises concerns about the allocation of resources within the department, with low pay, poor training, and high attrition leading to a lack of qualified staff.

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Photo credit nysfocus.com

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