DRIVEN TO DESPAIR

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Disaster dollars may not stretch to all the workers unemployed by the attack. The office at Big Apple Limos usually crackles with rapid-fire dispatch numbers, but last Wednesday the only numbers flying through the air sounded like this: One job in one eight-hour shift equals fifty cents an hour for the driver.

“We’ve been sitting four to five hours,” said Big Apple driver Syed Naqvi. “Business is dead.”

For Big Apple and other limo companies, who until last Tuesday got a huge chunk of their business from airports and from financial institutions based at the World Trade Center, business is down almost 70 percent, according to the drivers’ union and several car companies, and is not expected to go back up anytime soon. “We had customers who used to work in the World Trade Centers, Embassy Suites, Marriott. Now we can’t even get the cars in,” said Isaac Kordunov, owner of Eilat Limousine Service.

As labor groups and government agencies scramble to figure out how many thousands of local residents lost their jobs when the towers fell, the loss of collateral jobs like Naqvi’s is just beginning to sink in. For the city’s 11,000 limo drivers, it looks like 30 percent of their business may be gone for the foreseeable future.

“We just can’t speculate yet as to how many businesses are impacted,” said state Labor Department spokesperson Betsy McCormack. “Until we start seeing the claims come in, we just don’t know.”

For workers like Naqvi, whose jobs were two degrees removed from the towers, those claims may not pay off. The state’s Disaster Unemployment Assistance only covers workers whose businesses closed or were destroyed, or whose employers laid them off as a result of the disaster. Independent contractors like limo drivers, said McCormack, are not eligible.

Naqvi, for one, does not know what other options he has if business remains slow. “We can’t understand how we’re going to pay our insurance installments, rent, car payments, food,” said Naqvi, who has four kids, a wife and a $1,500-a-month mortgage. “We are very, very scared right now.”