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To Reach a Single A.T.M., a Line of Unemployed Stretches a Block

To Reach a Single A.T.M., a Line of Unemployed Stretches a Block


To Reach a Single A.T.M., a Line of Unemployed Stretches a Block

The line started small about two months ago with a handful of people who had recently been laid off. But now, nearly three months into the economic crisis, which has claimed more than 40 million jobs nationwide, it stretches 50 or 60 people long throughout the day and down almost an entire Manhattan block.They are all waiting to access the same thing: the lone A.T.M. inside the only New York City branch for KeyBank, a regional Ohio bank in charge of distributing unemployment benefits to out-of-work New Yorkers.The state provides benefits through direct deposit or on KeyBank debit cards. KeyBank has higher one-time withdrawal limits than other banks and doesn’t charge a fee, making it a better option for many unemployed.So from dawn to dusk, hundreds of people wait in line in a scene that starkly reflects the financial toll that the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis have inflicted on workers.Even as some states across the country, including parts of New York, start to reopen — with people going back to work and stores getting back to business — the daily line outside the KeyBank branch in Manhattan is a vivid reminder that, for many, their economic suffering isn’t over yet.It also underscores the struggle that many states, including New York, faced in meeting the needs of an enormous avalanche of suddenly unemployed workers as much of the country shut down. Government websites meant to accept unemployment claims were crashing and some people were — and still are — unable to reach state employees on the phone.In New York, the claims backlog finally has started to ease as more people receive benefits. But now accessing their money has become another hurdle.“It’s terrible,” said Mandy Zaxanz, who spent 45 minutes traveling from her Brooklyn home to the A.T.M. It took her more than two-and-a-half hours to reach the machine.Ms. Zaxanz, who lost her job at a Manhattan hotel in March and waited nearly eight weeks to get her first unemployment payment, said she needed money to pay rent and buy food.Though the debit cards loaded with unemployment benefits can be used at other bank A.T.M.s, KeyBank allows withdrawals of as much as $1,500 at a time. Other banks have far lower transaction limits and some impose fees.As a result, people who need cash to pay large bills, like housing costs, are willing to travel far and endure the long line.KeyBank officials said they would step up efforts, including stationing employees outside the branch, to let people know that they can withdraw money at other banks. But state officials criticized the bank for not doing more sooner.As Ms. Zaxanz waited, she prayed the A.T.M. would not run out of money, as it had when she tried to use it last week. It also ran out on Wednesday afternoon, which led to furious people punching nearby windows.Not far behind Ms. Zaxanz was Anthony Brown, 69, who lost his custodian job in March and said he did not know where else he could use the card because he did not own a computer to search online.“I come here to get the most out,” Mr. Brown said.He filed for unemployment over the phone in early April but did not receive the card until last week. Mr. Brown later discovered that his application had been incomplete.So far this year, more than 2.5 million unemployment claims have been filed in the state. Roughly half have been from people who lost jobs in New York City, where some of its largest industries — the service sector in particular — have been especially hard hit. About 500,000 people in the state receive their benefits on a KeyBank card.The people in line at the bank are a cross-section of the city’s economy and represent its most vulnerable workers — janitors, bartenders, school bus drivers, deliverers — who struggled to survive even during normal times with low-paying jobs. Some brought their children, others used walkers to move around and most traveled there from outside Manhattan.All were there for the same reason as Jose Francisco, 55, who lost his job as an insurance agent in March. They needed money for the basics: groceries, utility bills, monthly rent.Mr. Francisco, who lives in the Bronx, said he would use the cash to buy a money order to help pay a portion of his $996 monthly rent, which he has not paid in full in more than two months.“Out of all the banks, they chose the one with one branch in the city,” said Mr. Francisco about the only A.TM. without fees and with a high limit. “It’s insane.”People who live in the residential high-rises on the street said they have seen lines at all hours of the day. On Wednesday, when it rained part of the day, the line hugged close to the buildings. On Thursday, a bus driver who lost her job of 16 years said she had stood there “too many times to count.”“It’s such a travesty of inequity,” said Peter Wiener, who lives on the block and has tried for weeks to alert KeyBank’s corporate offices about the situation. “It’s all day every day, and it’s only getting worse.”The state awarded a contract to KeyBank in 2015 to manage the distribution of unemployment claims in New York. The state gave the bank the highest score in a competitive bid and selected KeyBank over Bank of America.People getting unemployment benefits have another option to avoid fees, which can range from $1.50 to $3 per transaction, by using the card at other A.T.M.s in the Allpoint network, which has 1,000 locations in New York City, including a handful within walking distance of the KeyBank branch.Those A.T.M.s have smaller withdrawal limits per transaction, usually around $200 to $400, though they can be used consecutively every day until $1,500 is taken out, a KeyBank spokeswoman, Kimberly Kowalski, said.

Updated June 5, 2020

How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

The bank said this information is included in documentation that comes with the debit cards and that an email was recently sent to recipients about other ways to withdraw money.The KeyBank A.T.M. is now stocked with 100 times more cash than it would be in a normal week, the bank said.“We understand the frustration,’’ Ms. Kowalski said. “These are uncertain times, emotions are running high and claimants need access to their funds quickly.”State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat who represents a large part of Midtown Manhattan, wrote a letter this week to KeyBank officials asking them to waive all out-of-network fees at A.T.M.s. In a recent letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, demanded that the state and KeyBank better inform the card holders about other A.T.M. options.In recent days, fliers have started to appear on the front of the bank branch that tell people about the other locations at which they can get cash. But on Thursday, that information was written only in English and not seen by people until after they had waited for hours.In the coming days, KeyBank said it would dispatch representatives to stand outside the bank for 10 hours every day and tell people that they have other options.“It is entirely unacceptable that the bank failed to communicate those options to unemployed New Yorkers during this crisis,” said Deanna Cohen, a spokeswoman at the New York Department of Labor. “We want to remind New Yorkers with KeyBank debit cards that they can switch to direct deposit at any time on the D.O.L. website.”Among those in line on Thursday were Juleiddy De Leon and her mother, Carmen Taveras. Ms. De Leon, 19, was expecting to start an office clerk job during the summer before her sophomore year at Northeastern University in Boston. The position was eliminated before school ended.Ms. Taveras, a janitor at an office building in Manhattan, had her work schedule cut in half. They were hoping to withdraw $1,500 to buy groceries, which they spend about $80-$100 on every day to help feed their family of five.“The people you see here are mostly Hispanic and low-income,” said Ms. De Leon, who lives in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. “Some don’t know you have the option to get a check.”After about three hours in line, she finally reached the bank’s entryway with the A.T.M. and emerged with $1,000. Ms. De Leon said the A.T.M. would not allow her to take out $1,500, even though she had not used it anywhere else that day.“My feet hurt,” she said afterward. “My back hurts.”She then excused herself because she had to help an older woman in line behind her who spoke little English and did not know how to use an A.T.M.

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