GATES, N.Y. – A father is trying to protect his daughter stricken with cancer for the second time in four years and at the same time, he’s trying to fight one of the most frustrating, complicated systems in New York.
The Antinetto family in Gates has been through the ringer with the state Department of Labor. And still, eight months after Frank Antinetto lost his job to take care of his daughter, he hasn’t received a single payment.
This is a joint investigation by News10NBC and New York Focus, an investigative news organization in New York City.
We tracked the story of Frank Antinetto and his daughter Jazzy to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis and back home.
New York Focus looked into the Department of Labor’s rate of denying claims.
“Ride that sucker,” Frank said to Jazzy in a video last Christmas.
The video shows Jazzy Antinetto learning to ride her new scooter outside her home in Gates. She was 13 years old. By May she was at St. Jude Children’s Hospital with leukemia. Doctors told her parents it was probably caused by the treatment for her brain cancer four years earlier.
Berkely Brean: “You miss your friends?”
Jazzy on Zoom: “Yeah.”
Brean: “I would too.”
“It’s devastating,” her dad said at her bedside. “It’s absolutely devastating.”
Frank Antinetto went to St. Jude’s to be with his daughter. She was there to treat her brain cancer as well.
Despite text messages with his manager, that he shared with me that show he was communicating with his employer, Frank was fired by RIT in June for leaving his job and violating its “Absence Reporting Policy.”
Because of that, the State Department of Labor said he left “without good cause” and was therefore ineligible for unemployment.
In July, Frank appealed citing the state law of a compelling family reason. In August, labor changed its mind and wrote in a letter that the “claimant is eligible.”
But by the time I talked to Frank from Jazzy’s hospital room in September, he still couldn’t get anyone at labor to deal with his claim.
“You can’t get through to anybody on the phone or on their website,” he said.
In its story, New York Focus reports the state grants 90 percent of unemployment claims and that it gets 25,000 calls a day.
But for the claims it denies, “New York is in the top 15 states with the highest rates of improper decisions” the New York Focus story reports.
The story sources a federal report that estimates “one in eight” claimants denied were “actually eligible.” A labor spokesman told New York Focus “Improving New York’s Unemployment Insurance system has been a priority.”
The day before Thanksgiving, Jazzy returned home from St. Jude’s. We were at the airport for the reunion.
When I contacted the Department of Labor in September, the office emailed me and wrote they would not talk about Frank’s case specifically, but they “weigh each application carefully” and if someone, like Frank, disagrees with a denial they can ask for a judicial hearing.
Frank did that in October. The judge said he was only ineligible between June and October 11. Frank took that to mean he would be eligible after October 11th, so Frank called the labor office after the ruling.
“And I spoke to the woman on the phone. She told me I didn’t have a claim,” he said from his kitchen table with Jazzy and his wife Mykel.
“Didn’t I have a claim?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said.” So I literally had to start all over again on the Nov. 26. I guess it makes you wonder that if I don’t qualify for unemployment in this situation, who would?
Frank felt conflicts inside the state unemployment labor laws.
On the one hand, state labor law says compelling family reasons make you eligible. On the other hand it requires a person be “ready, willing and able to work immediately.”
Frank told me that was difficult to do from a hospital room at St. Jude’s.
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