WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - State Senator Patty Ritchie wants the state’s labor department commissioner gone, saying the system to file for unemployment benefits is beyond broken. Her remarks have drawn a sharp response from the Cuomo Administration.
The north country Republican says her office has received more than 2,000 calls from struggling constituents, who haven’t “seen a dime” nearly 2 months after filing for jobless benefits.
"To say these people are struggling would be an understatement. Most who reach out are in tears, cannot buy food to feed their families, can no longer afford the medications they need to stay healthy and in many cases, are seeing the small businesses they’ve worked so hard to build being destroyed," said Ritchie (R. - 48th District).
Ritchie said while she understands the New York State Department of Labor is overwhelmed, it's unacceptable that people haven't received benefits since filing in mid-March.
"This week alone, my office has heard from nearly 500 people who have found themselves in these situations, through no fault of their own. Many of these applicants have been left hanging with no way to check on the status of their claim. When they do receive a call from the Department of Labor, they cannot get any direction or answers and instead are told to be 'patient.' Simply put, this is a slap in the face to these individuals who have been waiting weeks, and in many cases, close to two months for the benefits they are entitled to," said Ritchie.
She said her office has also heard from a number of people who have received via mail the personal information of other applicants, including their Social Security numbers.
"This is putting added stress on people who are already at their breaking point and now have to worry about their identity being compromised," she said.
Ritchie said she and her staff have offered to volunteer to be trained to help process claims at the Department of Labor, but were not taken up on the offer.
"It has become abundantly clear in recent weeks that the system to file for unemployment is beyond broken and that steps taken to address the issues within the department are not working," said Ritchie.
She said issues relating to the unemployment system have not received sufficient attention.
"In recent days, the Governor has enlisted the help of industry titans such as Bloomberg, Gates, and Schmidt to address issues relating to health care, the economy and education. Meanwhile the unemployment system falters, leaving people to languish."
Ritchie is calling for Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon to step aside and for the administration to appoint someone who can "lead an effort to address the backlog and get money in the hands of hardworking New Yorkers immediately."
“Clearly, this system needs to be re-imagined and the state cannot wait any longer to do so,” Ritchie said.
Jack Sterne, a spokesperson for the Cuomo Administration, issued the following statement about Ritchie’s call for change:
“We’re moving faster and more aggressively in New York than any other major state, paying over $5.8 billion in benefits to 1.5 million New Yorkers in just two months – nearly three times the amount paid in all of last year. Commissioner Reardon and thousands of state employees are working 24/7 to process applications and get New Yorkers their benefits, and we won’t let cheap shots from cheap politicians distract us from that work.”
That statement drew this response from Ritchie:
“Today I called for change at the New York State Department of Labor after receiving thousands of calls from constituents who have been waiting 6-8 weeks for their unemployment claims to be processed. Instead of providing real answers as to why this is happening, the Governor’s spokesperson resorted to calling me a ‘cheap politician.’ If the bureaucrats in Albany want to pat themselves on the back about how well this process is working, have them come and explain themselves to the single mom in Ogdensburg who has been waiting seven weeks to receive one dollar. Or the small business owner in Watertown who was forced to close and has $20 left in her bank account. People are suffering and if the Governor’s spokesperson thinks my standing up for them makes me a cheap politician, then so be it.”