A person reads a sign on the door of a New...

A person reads a sign on the door of a New York State Department of Labor office closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. Credit: JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Thousands of self-employed Long Islanders who received unemployment assistance last year have received emails from the state Labor Department informing them they have until June 1 to submit proof of eligibility.

New Yorkers who received a week or more of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance between Dec. 27, 2020 and Sept. 5, 2021, are being asked to submit proof that they qualified for the program or risk having to pay back funds. The federal government set the verification requirements, the state Labor Department said in the email.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, is a program that for the first time provided aid to out-of-work gig workers, independent contractors, and others who are self-employed. The program was created by the federal government in March 2020 to supplement lost wages of those who would otherwise have no recourse.

The benefit recipients must "provide documentation proving employment, self-employment, or the planned beginning of employment or self-employment at the time they applied for benefits," the agency said in a statement.

"Per the federal government, affected PUA recipients have 90 days from when they receive notice via email/U.S. mail to submit supporting documentation," the agency said.

The agency said recipients must provide documentation even if they believe they previously did, and that failure to do so will make recipients responsible for paying back funds to the Labor Department.

A complete list of acceptable types of documentation can be found by visiting https://dol.ny.gov/pua-documentation.

Lisa Reith, 57, a now-retired school bus attendant and classroom aide, said she believes she may have received the Labor Department email in error as she had previously qualified for regular unemployment insurance. Still, she worries about running afoul of the state unemployment system and plans to resubmit documentation of her unemployment eligibility.

"I guess I have to do all of this stuff," Reith said. "Why are you asking me to show proof again? You are just making more work for the people at the unemployment office … you can’t get through to them in the first place."

Reith said she had tried to get information as to why she received the email but has yet to hear back.

A Labor Department spokesman told Newsday that the agency would be looking into whether the email was sent to Reith in error or not.

"I understand there is probably fraud out there," Reith said. "But now you want everybody to send in all the documentation that you already sent in to get approved."

The federally backed PUA program, along with a weekly enhancement of $300, expired on Sept. 5 after being extended at the end of 2020. Regular state unemployment payments range from $108 to $504 per week, depending on previous earnings.

New Yorkers who received the special aid must show that they were eligible for the benefits when they first filed their PUA application and that they made weekly certifications to claim benefits.

Additionally, recipients of the aid must prove that they were part of the workforce by showing evidence of employment, self-employment, or that they were "planning to begin employment or self-employment," the email read.

In December 2020, there were roughly 84,200 unemployed Long Islanders, according to state data. During the same month last year, the number of unemployed residents shrank to 37,600.

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