In New York, systems crashed under the weight of about half-a-million filings per day -- an increase of about 1,000% on normal levels.
But who is and isn't eligible? And how do you navigate this strained system?
"They tried at first when we were slowing down as the coronavirus increased, they were cutting people's shifts," Applebee's server Elissa Schlick said.
She had been a server at the restaurant in Riverhead for a year, but with dwindling customers, Schlick was let go from her job. And when she tried to file for unemployment, she ran into issues.
"I couldn't complete the online application. It took me to a page and then froze, it wouldn't let me continue," Schlick said.
She says she tried to file by calling New York's Department of Labor 73 times and then dozens of times online. Schlick says she never got through.
That's the dilemma many people are facing when they apply for unemployment.
"They don't know where to turn," caseworker Lisa Maurer said. "They don't know where their next dollar is coming from. They don't know where to go."
At the Women's Rights Information Center in Englewood, Maurer says her clients that were recently placed in food service and cleaning jobs were the first to be let go by businesses suffering from coronavirus collateral damage.
Walk-in unemployment sites were ordered closed. So how do you apply?
In New Jersey, you can apply for unemployment between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. by phone or online, and your time slot goes by the last four digits of your social security number.
In New York, the first letter of your last name dictates which day you can file for unemployment.
Who is covered? Full or part-time workers who were laid off, furloughed or fired, or whose businesses were ordered to close. But you have to be healthy and able to work to qualify.
Who's not covered? If you're sick or quarantined you can use your company sick time or apply for short-term disability. Other people who are not covered at this time are freelancers or so-called 'gig' employees.
New Yorkers can find the links to a number of worker's rights resources here: COVID-19 services and resources, NYC Worker Rights and NYC Workplace Laws.
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