NIAGARA FALLS N.Y. (WIVB) — Niagara Falls resident Tyler Favorite had his unemployment benefits suddenly cut off after he could not prove he used to work at a hospital in Syracuse. That’s because he had not, but he never claimed he did.
“It is very frustrating, to say the least, to get through to anyone,” Favorite said.
What has been most frustrating for Favorite is that state labor officials keep asking him for records that he worked in Syracuse, but he keeps telling them he did not. He worked for a company in Niagara Falls that is shut down, and had already shown unemployment officials the proof.
His patience is wearing thin—along with his bank account—after weeks of going without his unemployment benefits. The collection agency he worked for shut down due to the pandemic, and he was receiving his state and government benefits until he got a notice last month.
The letter from state labor officials said they needed to see proof that he used to work at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. He never said he did, but unemployment officials would not take “no” for an answer.
The fact that he could still certify his claim each week but received no money has all the hallmarks of identity theft, but a labor official advised against filing a fraud claim. “She would not suggest opening a fraud case against my account because I would not be able to certify and because it would put a hold on my account, and it might make matters worse,” Favorite said.
So what to do when unemployment lets you certify your weekly claim but you are not getting your money? The Erie County Bar Association has been helping folks navigate the unemployment maze for years through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Staff attorney Valdora Estridge says copious record-keeping is key.
“Attach it to whatever email you are sending them. That way you have a copy of it and they have a copy of it,” she says. “If they say we have never seen it, you can say, “On this day I sent it.” They can pull up your file, they can look and see that it is there.”
Estridge says unemployment fraud is on the rise, but a claimant would have to take that up directly with the Department of Labor. “Either they are having a conversation with the Department of Labor, or they are getting a letter saying something is going on that they know did not happen with them. That is definitely becoming more prevalent.”
The state labor department says it has shut down unemployment fraud amounting to $5.5 billion during the pandemic. But if you just need help taking on the unemployment bureaucracy, an organization like the Volunteer Lawyers Project can help.