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The state's unemployment system is still swamped, but there are signs it's improving

After weeks of frustrating workers with an unreliable website and hopelessly jammed phone lines, the state Labor Department has new systems in place to handle the unprecedented volume of more than 800,000 workers trying to file unemployment claims.

Users said they have gotten mixed results, but for the most part, applicants have said the new system seems to be an improvement.

"I have gotten three robo calls since Thursday and then today I got a human," Darlene Holler-Bolsover, a receptionist from North Tonawanda, said Monday.

The State Department of Labor's unemployment website was getting good feedback after the system was rebooted Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a press conference Monday.

"The new platform is working much, much better," Cuomo said.

But not everyone has been successful.

Justine Mitrowski of Cambria has been trying to file for unemployment since March 30. Finally on Friday, after the state Labor Department partnered with tech companies Google Cloud, Deloitte and Verizon to improve the process, she made some progress.

The massage therapist owns her own business and works a second job at a spa, both in Lockport. When she began the unemployment application process last month, she got as far as she could online, then received a notification that she would have to call the state Labor Department to finish up.

But when she tried to do that, she got nowhere. Sometimes she got a busy signal, other times she got a message saying operators were busy. When she was lucky, she got far enough to enter her social security number and PIN.

"They would eventually hang up on me because the operators were all busy," Mitrowski said.

She tried calling every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to the alphabetical schedule for her last name.

Thursday, after hearing the state was making changes to the application process, she stopped calling. Finally, the next day, she received an automated call saying the state had received her application and that a live representative would contact her soon.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a news conference Thursday that all applicants would hear back within 72 hours with help completing their claims, but Mitrowski had not heard back by Monday evening.

"It was some relief hearing that they have my claim and are working on it," she said.

One worker said he received an automated call after midnight Saturday. Another received a live call Easter Sunday. Some applicants who applied since the website's overhaul received instant denials online. Others, many of whom have called literally hundreds of times apiece, still have not heard back.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said Monday that 200,000 outgoing calls were made by the Department of Labor over the weekend.

The system was changed so that those who had missing information on their applications would not have to call the state and spend time on hold for follow-ups. All of those user calls contributed to a logjam that crashed the former system. The state now calls back applicants who need follow-up service.

Those applying for unemployment should answer calls that may come up as private, which could be the Department of Labor calling about their case, DeRosa said.

Unemployed workers who have heard back since changes were made have reported that incoming calls from the state appeared on their phone Caller IDs as some variation of "Unknown," "0+," "Restricted," "No Caller ID" or from a 518 or 888 area code.

In addition to the changes in communication, the state also simplified the unemployment application. The former application, which was composed of more than 100 questions, has been streamlined down to about 20, the governor said.

"Unbelievably, we had a thousand people working on the website, handling the calls. A thousand people could not handle the input, which is just phenomenal," Cuomo said.

The state has processed roughly 600,000 unemployment claims, and 200,000 more are pending, according to DeRosa.

The governor was unable to say exactly how long it takes for checks to be issued once claims are processed.

"I think as soon as the application process is done and you’re accepted, they go," he said.

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