Narada Johnson, a make-up artist, hairstylist and a bartender from Brooklyn, lost all his gigs when the pandemic first hit. He filed for unemployment on March 5.
But despite repeated attempts to get his funds, Johnson has been trapped in a tangle of red tape and is down to his last $20. But he’s more worried about his cat, Cucumber.
“I’m hungry, but I make sure my cat Cucumber is taken care of first,” Johnson told The Post. “I have to scrounge for change, but I’ll starve before my cat starves. I’ve been smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee to keep my appetite down because I don’t have money to eat.”
Johnson said he’s applied for both regular unemployment assistance as well as the new PUA — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance with no luck.
“I’ve filled out all the paperwork, but my applications are just sitting there online,” Johnson said. “It’s a nightmare. And try getting someone on the phone, you’ll be on hold for hours.”
Johnson is one of thousands of New Yorkers and people around the country who have overwhelmed states’ often archaic and antiquated unemployment systems in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. People report waits of up to five hours on the phone only to have their calls abruptly disconnected.
Over the past four weeks, about 22 million workers filed jobless claims, including about 1.2 million New Yorkers.
Drake Spiess, 35, who lives in midtown and owns a production company that puts on live events, said all his contracts were canceled as soon as the city shut down businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people. He applied for unemployment benefits three weeks ago and has heard nothing. He calls the state unemployment line every day but is unable to reach anyone after holding for more than two hours.
“I have zero money right now,” Spiess said. “I understand the reasoning for self-isolating. But what they’ve done is place us in prison with no money. My younger brother sent me $300 but my folks are dead and not many people have money to give away to me. I can’t go stand in food lines because I have asthma and I could catch the virus from people there.”
The secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa, told reporters Thursday that the state had been hit with more than one million claims for unemployment insurance, about four times the number of people who had lost jobs after the 2008 economic meltdown.
“We are going to continue doing everything we can to bring the system up to deal with this scale,” she said.