1010 WINS flags mayor of 311 food program snafu, he promises to fix it

Kimberly Dole
April 17, 2020 - 6:45 am

    NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $170 million initiative Wednesday to make sure “no New Yorker goes hungry” as he urged supermarkets and grocery stores require customers to wear face coverings amid the coronavirus outbreak -- but 1010 WINS discovered a bit of a snafu when calling 311 to get more information about it. 

    The initiative to provide meals is in addition to the network of food pantries and soup kitchens already serving meals to New Yorkers. De Blasio encouraged anyone in need of free food to call 311.

    1010 WINS' Juliet Papa called 311 early Thursday morning to inquire about the city's food and delivery programs -- but after being on hold for 10 minutes, she was informed that nothing could be processed or registered because the system wasn't available until 11 a.m.


    Wait, what gives?

    Well, Papa took it right to the mayor during his daily briefing.

    "I called 311 this morning to inquire about the process of the food program and the delivery program," she told De Blasio. "I have to tell you what happened. I was on hold for 10 minutes -- and I did time that. And then when I did get through to somebody, who was very nice, I was told that they couldn't process anything or register me or whoever would call and I would have to call back at 11 a.m. because the system wasn't available.

    Finally she said, "So how can get people get through if they need to, specifically seniors who probably really rely more on their phones than going to a computer to look something up or register. What can people do?"

    De Blasio didn't miss a beat, responding with a lengthy answer and promised to fix it.

    "Juliet, I'm glad you did that. I appreciate it," he said. "I'm very frustrated by the report you're giving me. I have a lot of respect for the folks on my team who've been fighting this battle and a lot of respect for the people at 311. I visited with them a few weeks ago and really, really appreciate their work. But I have been saying to my team incessantly we have to make sure that people get served immediately and we need quality control on 311. And bluntly you just proved what I warned people about -- that no one should have to go what you went through."

    He continued, "I understand that sometimes there is a surge in demand, and we in fact yesterday emphasized to all New Yorkers that food would be available for anyone that needed that delivery because they were vulnerable or a senior couldn't get out, a disabled person.  We made that very clear yesterday. So Juliet, it doesn't surprise me there would be a spike in a number of calls after I told all New Yorkers this food is there no matter what, we are going to feed you. Maybe they didn't put enough personnel on to address that spike. I don't like that but at least I can understand that. But it is not acceptable to me, and I'm gonna deal with this right after this press conference. It's not acceptable that anyone would be put on hold for 10 minutes for anything in the middle of a crisis. It is not acceptable people would be told to call back later. It's just not the way we're supposed to do things so I'm going to be really honestly be pissed off at the people who are supposed to be handling this, who I have warned repeatedly to not let this happen and we will fix it today.

    He added, "I'll just order more personnel. This is exactly the type of thing I will make a priority. We will spend whatever the hell it takes and get as many personnel to as needed to make sure it doesn't happen. And you're totally right Juliet that seniors are much more likely to use the phone. We can give out the website until the cows come home but in the end most seniors are going to pick up the phone. And a lot of people don't speak English and need the translation too when they call. So I will get this fixed today. And I want you to test it again tomorrow please and call in and I'll turn to our colleagues and say when you call into to give in to give your report and I want to make sure that call gets through so I can see if people have made the changes they need to make."

    Well, Thursday night, a spokesperson for the mayor told Papa that New Yorkers could now call before 11 a.m. -- we'll see about the wait time.