De Blasio: City hiring 120 more 311 staffers, prioritizing food calls after 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa raised issues

Coronavirus NYC de Blasio
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NEW YORK (1010 WINS) – A day after 1010 WINS reporter Juliet Papa told Mayor Bill de Blasio that she had trouble inquiring about food via 311, the mayor said Friday he was making several big changes to the city’s primary information line, including prioritizing food-related calls and hiring 120 more staff members to operate the phones.

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De Blasio announced a $170 million initiative Wednesday to make sure “no New Yorker goes hungry.” 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.

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.

"I called 311 this morning to inquire about the process of the food program and the delivery program," Papa told De Blasio. "I have to tell you what happened. I was on hold for 10 minutes ... 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."

"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?" Papa asked.

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

“It is not acceptable to me, and I'm going to deal with this right after this press conference,” de Blasio told Papa. “It's not acceptable that anyone would be put on hold for 10 minutes for anything in the middle of a crisis.”

De Blasio raised the issue at his Friday morning briefing, giving a special shout out to Papa.

“There are real questions about whether people can get through the right way, get the information they need in this crisis we’re in,” de Blasio said. “So I want to thank one of our journalists in the city, who’s a veteran journalist, done great work for years. Juliet Papa at 1010 WINS who raised the question to me yesterday at my press conference.”

“You did the smart thing and you tested the 311 system yourself and you found it was not providing the service that was needed for someone who was hungry,” de Blasio told Papa. “As a result of Juliet’s call, some important work was done yesterday.”

De Blasio said 311 calls have grown exponentially in the past month—there were about 55,000 calls a day before the coronavirus outbreak. The number of calls peaked at 200,000 in a single day in April.

De Blasio said to address the level of high demand “we’re taking some immediate steps, literally since yesterday morning.”

First, the mayor said, the city is going to prioritize calls about the coronavirus and encourage callers with non-coronavirus issues to access the 311 app or website.

De Blasio also said hungry people calling about getting food will get an immediate response and “not be put on hold for 10 minutes.”

“You get an immediate response. You get immediate clarity about when food will start to arrive,” de Blasio said. “So that’s going to be the standard going forward at 311. If you’re calling about food, you go to the front of the line. You get an immediate response from a human being.”

De Blasio also said that to keep up with demand, the city is immediately hiring 120 more staff members for 311.

Additionally, De Blasio said that he wants to make sure that crucial calls, like calls about social-distancing violations are being handled quickly. He said people can now upload photos of social-distancing violations via the 311 app or by texting a photo to 311-692. They can also upload photos at

“All we need is the photo and the specific location and enforcement will happen right away,” the mayor said.

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