Glitches and long hold times plagued New York's unemployment system during the initial weeks of the COVID pandemic as New Yorkers sought to apply for benefits amid waves of layoffs. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Department of Labor officials have unveiled a series of upgrades meant to fix those problems. 

State officials are midway through a modernization plan that is aimed at reducing call volume and making the experience of applying for unemployment benefits easier. The enactment of the changes is expected to take about four years all together, Hochul said. 

"The struggles that New York's workforce experienced during the pandemic showed us how crucial it is to be able to connect job searchers with employers," Governor Hochul said. "As we rebuild from the economic effects of the pandemic, we must continue to improve the systems that allow us to get money back into New Yorkers' hands. I commend the Department of Labor for their swift work throughout the pandemic to help New Yorkers facing hardship, and I look forward to continuing to work with them as we address gaps in our infrastructure."

Broadly, the goal is make it so people applying for aid can check on the status of their claims and address issues that may arise. 

The Department of Labor plans to develop an "omni-channel" contact center that will use bot-driven technology to answer specific questions about claims. A new management system will be enacted with the goal of processing claims rapidly. 

The department is also creating a new intranet system to improve internal training and help call center staff to streamline claims. The unemployment insurance system is also being updated to replace its old legacy mainframe. 

Labor officials had previously upgraded its phone system and added a new Google application that is meant to prevent the phone system from becoming overwhelmed by a crush of claims.

The onset of the pandemic led to a record number of New York residents applying for unemployment insurance in 2020, making it harder to confirm or obtain benefits. State officials at the time pledged to make changes to the system to streamline the process of applying for aid. 

"The Department of Labor was already working to improve the unemployment system, but the pandemic put that on the fast track in order to swiftly deliver $105 billion in assistance to nearly 5 million New Yorkers," Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said. "Since then, the Department has embraced innovative solutions and we continue to evolve to better serve New Yorkers. Our ability to adapt is why so many states continue to look to us for leadership throughout this global health crisis."