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Blizzard preventing some from getting to work, going unpaid

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Posted at 9:25 AM, Dec 30, 2022

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Many wonder where to turn to make ends meet after the storm severely impacted their weekly paycheck.

Because of the storm, one woman said she hasn't been able to make it for her shifts at the Harborcenter in Downtown Buffalo. She said it's been extremely difficult now living paycheck to paycheck.

"It's hard. It's breaking my heart," Mary Knickerbocker said.

Knickerbocker has not been able to make it into her part-time time job since the storm.

"And I live paycheck to paycheck to pay rent, to pay bills my landlord is not gonna sit there and say, 'Because of the blizzard, you can't pay your rent.' He's gonna say, 'I want my rent money,'" she said.

She is the only one in her home who can work.

"I mean it's putting a lot of stress not only on myself my family and I have no one to turn to," she said.

She tried to get to work on Thursday, but after waiting nearly two hours, she said the bus never came. NFTA spokesperson Kelly Khatib said they are restoring bus service to the fullest extent, but road conditions are creating delays.

"I called my boss, told him I'm not gonna get in and it's like there's no help. You know? I can't get into work," Knickerbocker said.

Her story is like many others in Western New York right now. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was asked during his briefing Thursday if there can be any relief for workers like Knickerbocker.

"I feel sorry for those who've lost wages, lost money they probably needed more than ever at the holiday season," Poloncarz replied.

Unfortunately, he said, the county, state or federal government does not reimburse for private sector and personal loss.

"It is unfortunately an employer, employee issue, and FEMA does reimbursement and we're gonna seek reimbursement for the governments. It is only for a governmental response. It is not for private damages. It is not for private loss," he added.

Dan Neaverth, commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said there is not a lot they can do at the moment.

"There's no avenue on that, at this point. We'll push those complaints if they're filed," he said.

He said the Department of Labor can weigh in on this. The department sent back this email:

• In order to be eligible for regular UI, New Yorkers must be unemployed due to no fault of their own and be ready, willing and able to work. That includes being able to travel to their place of employment.

• Before NYSDOL can pay any benefits, a claimant must serve an unpaid waiting period. This equals one full week of unemployment benefits.

• For more information about UI, visit the Claimant Handbook [] or the Claimant Frequently Asked Questions [].

• In regard to employees using being denied the use of vacation time during the storm, it depends on the employer’s vacation policy. If an employee feels the employer is in violation of their policy, we urge them to file a complaint [] with the Division of Labor Standards.

• If an employee is legitimately ill or needs the time for safe leave, they are covered under New York State Paid Sick Leave []. If an employee believes their employer is in violation, NYSDOL urges them to file a complaint with the Department by calling 888-469-7365.

Mirand also reached out to the Governor's office about this. A spokesperson said in an email:

"We are incredibly grateful for all of the fearless first responders who have been working around the clock through the Christmas weekend and into this week, and we are heartbroken by the horrific loss of life during this historic, once-in-a-generation blizzard. We remain committed to doing everything in our power to support recovery efforts, including deploying all available State resources, providing operational guidance to local governments, and securing swift federal support."

Still, so many people like Knickerbocker are waiting for the help they so desperately need.

"All we want to know is that there's help out there for us," she said.

This article was written by Kristen Mirand for WKBW.