“Getting through to the New York State unemployment office is like winning the lottery”

But many workers say that these lifelines often are impossible to access and, in some cases, won’t cover their expenses. Low-income workers who already had been living paycheck to paycheck say their bills are past due and they aren’t getting the financial help they need, which is putting them deeper into debt and in some cases, at risk of losing homes and cars. As the economic crisis goes on, they worry that their finances will be irretrievably altered by this pandemic, despite the government relief.

Craig pays $1,200 in rent per month, which the stimulus check should cover, but as she struggles to access unemployment assistance, her funds are getting dangerously low. She doesn’t have a credit card, which means she has no fallback once she runs out of money. “I’m going to be so far behind, and the job market is so barren, that I am not going to be able to make it up,” says Craig, who worries that she may have no choice but to leave New York for somewhere cheaper, just as her career had started to take off.

States’ unemployment assistance systems, which include staff, computers, and buildings, have not received increases in funding for some time, says Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. Their budgets are based on the previous year’s state unemployment rate, which means “states are funding this big crush based on the lowest unemployment rate in history,” she says. That means that in many places, people may wait weeks before seeing unemployment benefits. The additional $600 payments won’t likely start until mid-April, Evermore says, because states have to update their systems to account for the pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA).

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