News10NBC Investigates: NYS DOL Commissioner

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – For years, News10NBC has been reporting on system failures and rampant fraud in New York State’s unemployment system.  On Tuesday, the NYS Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon finally agreed to speak with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke about what’s being done to fix the system and better protect tax dollars and the personal information and identities of New Yorkers. 

Over the course of the pandemic, News10NBC has done dozens of stories with countless people in our area that struggled to get the unemployment benefits they were entitled to, “as you know at the beginning of the pandemic nobody ever expected that kind of volume it was like ten-times the volume that we ever even imagined could happen so, we struggled,” admits Commissioner Roberta Reardon. 

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The system used to process claims which News10NBC discovered was the antiquated MS-DOS, is now in the midst of a 4-year overhaul, “I want people to understand this is not a computer system, this is like a giant logic machine so, it’s very complicated lots and lots and lots of coding for each individual case,” Reardon explains. 

Many unemployed New Yorkers told News10NBC that when you had questions, you waited hours on hold just to get lost in a sea of prompts and then hung-up on.

Commissioner Reardon – Our human resources are the most precious because we don’t have infinite amounts of money to hire infinite amounts of people. Phone systems do get jammed occasionally and there is a wait but we try to take care of that as expeditiously as possible.

Jennifer Lewke – You say occasionally, I’ll be honest many of the people I talked to, even today still say they have a hard time getting through to a live person at DOL. 

Commissioner Reardon – So, we do have high volume times and we track it but it’s not every customer obviously. Customers get served every day but people do have trouble unfortunately, we still have people who put us on like auto-dialer, we had one the other day that called us like 1000 times in one day and it just takes the system down…We are working our way through the backlog to help people every day and we’re upgrading the entire phone system, it’s in development right now fingers crossed it will roll out soon because that’ll really expedite.

On the issue of fraud and all of the people who found out that their personal information had been used by scammers to collect benefits…

Jennifer Lewke – I have had many back-and-forths with your office about just how much money went out the door to people who didn’t deserve it or scammers who were completely illegitimate, do you have a number?  How much did New York State lose?

Commissioner Reardon – You know, we just had the recent press release last week about the $110 million that we’re going after.  The reason we don’t give you a number is because it changes all the time it’s not a hard number.

Reardon says the state stopped roughly $34 billion in fraudulent claims over the last few years but stopped short on Tuesday from providing even an estimate of how much it didn’t stop and is now trying to claw back.

Commissioner Reardon – During the pandemic it unquestionably was international cyber criminals because there was so much money in the system and they attacked everybody so there was a tremendous amount of money that got lost.

Jennifer Lewke – Are you still trying to recover any of those billions that were sent out the door or do you think it’s pretty much gone?

Commissioner Reardon – Oh yeah, I mean we report it to the federal government, the FBI works with us, federal resources go after it because it’s federal money, most of that money was federal money not state money because it was PUA.

Jennifer Lewke – There are still people to this day who are being used as a front to try and collect unemployment benefits I would think by now the state knows how to find them?

Commissioner Reardon – We have a lot of new techniques, that’s why we found the $110 million that we reported last week we’ve got another system a lot of tech we’re constantly improving on it… we are also, now that we have a minute to breathe, we’re going after the more localized fraud and I’m here to tell anybody listening to this if you do fraud our UI system by working while you were collecting a benefits, we will find you, there is no statute of limitations.