The New York State unemployment office typically gets 50,000 calls a week. Last week, it got almost 8 million.

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  • The number of people calling about unemployment benefits in New York State has spiked to more than 150 times its usual number, according to the state's budget director.
  • "We usually get 50,000 calls a week," the director said in a press conference Tuesday. "We got 1.2 million calls yesterday and 7.8 million calls last week."
  • The number of people filing for unemployment benefits in the US hit a record high of 3.3 million for the week ending March 21.
  • Thousands of businesses across the country have had to close their doors and lay off workers because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 21 - but that may only be the tip of the iceberg.

In New York state alone, the number of people calling to inquire about unemployment benefits has skyrocketed to more than 150 times its usual number, according to the state's budget director.Advertisement

"We usually get 50,000 calls a week," New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica said in a press conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday. "We got 1.2 million calls yesterday and 7.8 million calls last week."

The state has dedicated more than 700 people to answer unemployment-related phone calls, NBC New York reported.

As businesses have been forced to close and lay off workers because of the coronavirus outbreak, New York's unemployment website has been overwhelmed.
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"The site is so deluged that it keeps crashing because you literally have hundreds of thousands of people at any time trying to get on the site and it continues to crash," Cuomo said at the press conference, adding that the state has hired technology companies to work on improving the website.

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Several laid-off New York City restaurant workers told Business Insider last week that it was nearly impossible to get their application through on the unemployment website. Many said they had to make several attempts over several days.Advertisement

The US economy has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced businesses across the country to close and, as evidenced by unemployment claim numbers, left millions without jobs. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimated on March 17 that 3 million total jobs could be lost by the summer due to the pandemic, a number that now seems optimistic.

By March 21, the US economy had already contracted to a level not seen since the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new weekly economic index published by the New York Fed that's based on data points including unemployment claims, retail sales, an index of temporary and contract employment, steel production, fuel sales, and electricity consumption.

Businesses can expect some relief in the shape of the new $2.2 trillion stimulus bill

As more and more people apply for unemployment benefits, the US Department of Labor has issued guidance that gives states more flexibility in granting those benefits to workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. That includes allowing states to pay benefits for workers who are quarantined and cannot go to work or workers who leave a job due to a risk of exposure or to care for a family member.Advertisement

The new $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed into law last week allows laid-off workers to claim an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits for up to four months, on top of the amount given by the individual state. That's a significant boost from the average weekly unemployment-insurance check, which was $385 in January. The relief bill also made self-employed and contract workers - who typically do not qualify for these benefits - eligible for unemployment benefits for up to 39 weeks.

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