NOT-SO-HOTLINE

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Community groups serving unemployed families gathered Friday outside the Telephone Claims Center office to protest the imminent closure of the city’s only hotline for unemployment insurance applications. Calls are now being routed to Troy and Endicott, where fewer translators are available. As a result, say advocates, callers often have to spend hours on the line and even occasionally get cut off from the automatic system. State officials say they need to close the city’s office in the fall of 2006 in order to cut costs after losing $9.5 million in federal support. Non-native speakers represent a quarter of the hotline’s average of 30,000 weekly calls, according to the New York Unemployment Project, a local nonprofit. Since the office began downsizing in April, more than 100 bilingual staff members have lost their jobs. Michelle Mattos from the Fifth Avenue Committee, one of the groups at Friday’s protest, said that immigrants get excluded from unemployment services, even though they represent a huge swath of exploited low-wage workers. “It’s like they don’t exist,” she said. (E. Holmgren) [09/12/05]