Hawkins Parnell & Young's NYC Office Helping Local Residents Needing COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance
August 28, 2020 (New York, NY) – The New York City office of Hawkins Parnell & Young has been helping those in need of legal assistance to obtain unemployment insurance as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Through the New York State Bar Association’s COVID-19 Pro Bono program, the Hawkins Parnell team has joined forces with other attorneys around the State to provide legal counseling and practical assistance to unemployed individuals seeking New York State Unemployment Insurance (UI) and/or federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
In assisting these individuals, we have observed that the primary issue for many is that after filing a claim, they find themselves waiting for weeks to receive a payment and are unable to reach anyone at the NYS Unemployment Office to follow up on the status of their application. Many are also denied UI for unknowingly answering a question incorrectly. For example, many eligible applicants have responded that they are not ready, willing and able to work, even though they are able to work but cannot do so for other reasons (such as having been laid off by their employer, medical issues, etc.), with no way to correct the information provided on their application. This has often resulted in many individuals going for weeks, and even months, without any source of income.
One such case involved a 61-year-old self-employed man who was the custodial parent of a high school age son and found himself unable to work due to an underlying medical condition. Hawkins Parnell was able to help him obtain assistance after a few frustrating weeks of telephone calls and emails to State and Federal representatives. The individual expressed his gratitude after he finally began receiving unemployment payments, saying “everything worked out all right so thank you so much for your time and your effort, and your energy and your encouragement and your enthusiasm….”
In another case, a 58-year old woman who lived alone and had been working for the same employer for 30 years, was forced to accept a part-time schedule which resulted in her receiving less than she would have received if she was simply laid off and thereby eligible for UI. This made her anxious about how she would buy food and pay her bills. We recommended that she contact her state and local representatives, as well as the NYS Unemployment Office. Shortly thereafter, she reported receiving a substantial payment from the State.
In the course of working with individuals like these, we have found the biggest obstacle for most was the State’s inability to efficiently and expeditiously process their claims. While NYS processed approximately 4.1 million unemployment claims during the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic, due to its outdated IT system and staffing issues, many were unable to collect unemployment insurance at a time when they most desperately needed it. (However, according to the NYS Department of Labor, New York has now paid almost $40 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 3.3 million New Yorkers.)
Hawkins Parnell was able to successfully advocate on their behalf by researching their specific issues and directly contacting their state and local representatives in Albany. Through this process, it became clear that an outdated government computer system inundated with an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims provided challenges for everyone. Ultimately, the legal process guidance, moral support and reaffirmation of hope impacted not just these individuals but also Hawkins Parnell.