April 8, 2020 By Michael Dorgan,
A Sunnyside woman who lost her job last month following the outbreak of COVID-19 is in need of cash and her repeated attempts to file for unemployment have resulted in nothing more than jammed phone lines and automated messages.
Pamela Wittmeier, 56, said that she has been trying to file an unemployment claim since March 25 but has got nowhere. She said that when she calls she gets an automated message telling her to speak with a claims specialist.
When she tries to reach a claims specialists– another automated message tells her that all the specialists are busy and the system hangs up on her.
“It’s very stressful. There are moments where I’m extremely angry because I paid into these benefits. I’m going to be 57 in May and I’ve always paid my taxes,” she said.
Wittmeier said that she has spent, on average, about four to six hours per day trying to get through to a claims specialist. She has been on the phone everyday but one– and that was to preserve her sanity.
Wittmeier has been out of pocket since the furniture and prop rental store she worked for – Prop n Spoon, located at 32-00 Skillman Ave. – was shuttered on March 20. She said she has been forced to dip into her savings to pay rent, utilities and health insurance.
She has joined thousands of other New Yorkers who were left without a job since Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the shutdown.
More than 369,000 unemployment insurance claims were filed with the state on the week ending March 28 – an increase of more 2,600 percent over the same time last year, according to the latest figures. Just over 80,000 claims were filed the week before.
But those numbers are likely to be a lot higher as they do not take into account people like Wittmeier who are unable to make their claims. She said that her friends, fellow employees, and neighbors have been unable to file claims for similar reasons.
She has emailed the governor and the mayor every day but has gotten no response.
Wittmeier is also frustrated that public officials have given no clear plans or timelines as to when the situation might improve.
“I go through moments of panic where I just have to keep myself busy,” Wittmeier said.
“And I know that I’m more unfortunate than others and that I have a little bit of savings that I can carry myself for a couple of months but it’s so frightening,” she said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly apologized for the delays last week and has acknowledged that delays are compounding the stress of the unemployed.
He said the state is working to speed up the process by hiring more staff, and adding more computer servers.
However, Wittmeier has seen little progress and is fearful that she may not have the funds to pay for her mounting bills.
“If this goes through to the fall or to the end of the year then basically I’m screwed because my savings will be at the extreme minimum,” she said.