Filed for unemployment and got a call from ‘Private?’ Answer it! It's the state

Berkeley Brean
Created: April 13, 2020 06:21 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) — After weeks of frustration, New York State overhauled its unemployment claims system. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office says the state called close to a quarter of a million people over the weekend.


The problem now, however, is what those calls look like to the people getting them. 

"I expected some glitches," hairstylist Joan Wetzel said. "But I didn't expect what happened on Saturday."

It was a phone call Wetzel got on the weekend. A screenshot of her phone says it was from a "private number."

"He said I understand you filed a New York State unemployment claim," Wetzel said. "So my first question is, ‘Well why are you calling me from a private number?’"

To Wetzel, who's been a self-employed hairstylist for 20 years, that was a red flag. 

"From this end, it's very scary to give out any personal information to a private number. There's no way for me to verify who this guy is," Wetzel said. 

So today I started digging into this. 

On the New York State Department of Labor's twitter feed, even before the call to Wetzel, Labor was telling people to expect a call from a "private caller" because the callers are working from home. The governor's top aide repeated this today. 

Melissa Derosa, Secretary to the Governor: "And by the way, for the public who is listening right now, if a call comes up and you're on the list and it's private, answer it please because that is the Department of Labor calling to finish your process."

The Department of Labor also says the caller will verify his or her identity two ways: Providing the date you filed your application and the type of claim. 

Brean: “Do you recall in your conversation that that came up?”

Joan Wetzel, self-employed hairstylist: “That was never asked. The first information he wanted from me was my social [security number] and my mother's maiden name.”

Wetzel told me the caller wanted her full social security number. I shared that with the Department of Labor. The spokeswoman for Labor says I'm not the first reporter to bring that up and she is checking with the unemployment office. 

Brean: “Have you received a call since that initial call?”

Joan Wetzel: “No I haven't.”

Brean: “They haven't called you back once.”

Wetzel: “No. This was Saturday. So I feel like I'm in limbo here. But I told my husband I feel better being in limbo with no benefits than giving my information to somebody I shouldn't.”

There are thousands of people in our community who are self-employed business owners like Wetzel. Under ordinary times, they would not be eligible for unemployment. But these are extraordinary times.

Brean: “You are self-employed, is that right?”

Andrea Burke, Burke Communications: “Yes. Yep.”

Brean: “Ordinarily you would not be eligible for unemployment.”

Burke: “That's it.”

Andrea Burke owns Burke Communications. She's a marketing consultant. She filed an unemployment claim a week and a half ago.

Because she's self-employed she's doesn't know if it will get approved. 

"Apparently, the self-employed and the independent contractors are only waiting to be denied. And then we can apply for the federal stimulus unemployment," Burke said. 

Brean: “So your claim has been filed.”

Andrea Burke: “Yes.”

Brean: “But you don't know if it's been accepted.”

Burke: “Right.”

Brean: “So where do you go from here?”

Burke: “I reach out to journalists, reporters to try to get the questions everybody wants answers because really you're the only ones who can ask a question.”

So that's what I did. 

I emailed the state and federal departments of labor. 

I learned that the law passed by Congress to deal with the crisis, the CARES Act, extends unemployment benefits to self-employed business owners. 

In an email, the state Department of Labor writes, "We are abiding by US DOL Guidance related to the CARES ACT and Extended Benefits. So yes, individuals will have to apply for UI first. If they don't qualify, they will file for PUA." That stands for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. 

So Burke is right. Self-employed business owners like her have to apply to the state first. If she gets denied, then she applies for the federal help. 

Click here for the release on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance from the federal Department of Labor.

Here are the critical links shared by the New York State Department of Labor:

Here is a list of frequently asked questions that outline qualification questions.

Here is a link to information about UI guidance for self-employed individuals.

Many of these links, including how to apply can be found in the boxes at the top of the DOL homepage.

Here is also a flowchart regarding the CARES ACT that may be helpful:

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