HARD AT WORK: STATE GIVES UNEMPLOYED SOME EXTRA HELP

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For the flood of workers who lost their jobs in the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy, there is one small mercy: at least they can apply for unemployment insurance in person. For them, the state’s Department of Labor has reopened its offices to in-person claims for the first time since last year, when the agency shifted application processing to phone-based claims as a cost-cutting measure.

Workers unemployed as a result of September 11’s disaster can also bring along a translator if needed (some offices do have Chinese-language translators available). Staff at those offices can also help displaced workers figure out if they’re eligible for the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, which covers people usually not eligible for regular unemployment: for example, injured workers not yet ready to go back to work.

In addition, the state has waived the one-week waiting period usually mandated before unemployment benefits kick in. “It could be that somebody’s business closed down, but just for this week,” said Labor Department spokesperson Betsy McCormack. “They could collect for just this week, then go back to work next week.”

There will be many thousands more, however–no idea yet how many, said McCormack–who won’t have a business to return to. For them, the state Department of Labor has applied for a National Emergency Grant that would use $150 million of federal Workforce Investment Act funding to give laid-off workers six months of reconstruction, renovation, cleanup or demolition work at the site of the attack. (Since the state can also use that money for equipment, there’s no telling how much of it would actually go toward wages.)

Meanwhile, the Central Labor Council and the Consortium for Worker Education have also set up a massive referral service for displaced workers. By phone banking to an existing network of employers, the groups hope to hook up the unemployed with jobs that will last through the holiday season. The Consortium, a labor-management partnership that already contracts with the city to train dislocated workers, has asked the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce to hit up their own member businesses for jobs. CWE, in return, has agreed to train low-skilled workers under its existing programs and to hook them up with a temp agency if companies do not want to hire workers directly.

“All we’re asking for is to get these people back to work right away, so they can get paychecks through the holidays,” said the CWE’s Joe McDermott. “Remember, it’s a mitzvah.”

For a list of useful phone numbers, see our Resource guide below.