Jobless claims on Long Island rose last week for the first time in over a month as the state continues to evaluate the possibility of participating in a limited federal program meant to enhance unemployment payments by $300 for a short period.
Unemployment claims last week jumped to 6,500 on Long Island, an increase of 24% over the 5,300 initial claims reported the week prior, according to state Labor Department data released Thursday. The newest report ends a five-week streak of declines in the number of Nassau and Suffolk residents filing jobless claims.
Long Island hit an all-time high in the number of weekly claims in April, when the region reported more than 59,000 people filing for unemployment in a single week.
The new unemployment data comes as Congress remains on recess until Labor Day after failing to reach an agreement on a new coronavirus aid package.
In addition to that state aid remaining up in the air, the Senate and the House have so far failed to reach a deal on enhanced unemployment benefits. The $600 weekly bonus that many on unemployment had come to rely on lapsed at the end of July.
The $600 enhancement, a product of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, requires congressional approval to be resumed or replaced. With that federal bonus, eligible New Yorkers received anywhere from $782 to $1,104 a week in jobless payments.
Now, with the program ended, weekly payments have dropped to between $182 and $504 per week, the state’s regular unemployment benefit.
Earlier this month, Trump signed a memorandum to enhance unemployment payments for jobless Americans by a total of $400. The memo was meant to set aside $44 billion from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, and it initially sought to have states chip in $100 a week, a 25% match.
After several clarifications from FEMA in the days since, the aid is now touted as a $300 boost, does not require an additional $100 from states, but faces a laundry list of questions and concerns both legal and logistic from state officials. So far, 11 states have been approved to receive the assistance, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho and Utah.
A state official said that New York is still evaluating whether it will try to participate in the program, which is called Lost Wages Assistance. The deadline for states to apply is Sept. 10, according to a FEMA guidance.
“I don’t know that any of it is legal,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday in a call with reporters. Cuomo, who also serves as Chairman of the National Governors Association, said beyond the issue of legality is the challenge of implementing a new unemployment payment process.
“All the governors will tell you that if the states need to reinvent their unemployment insurance administration program, it will be weeks or months before anyone gets a check,” he said.
While FEMA has clarified that states are no longer required to pay an additional $100 on top existing benefits, Cuomo said he is wary after previous issues surrounding the federal agency’s willingness to cover other COVID-19 related expenses.
“It’s an impossibility for the state of New York to contribute any money to unemployment insurance. You cannot get water out of a stone,” he said, citing the state’s $14 billion deficit. “As far as FEMA reimbursing us, that goes down with one of the other great lies: 'The check is in the mail.’ ”
On Thursday the state also published its recent jobs creation report for Long Island.
The Island added 15,700 non-farm jobs in July on a month-to-month basis, well below the 78,000 jobs gained in June.
“There was a lot of pent up demand once things started opening in June,” said Shital Patel, labor market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. “As things move along, I think [employers] are more cautious about hiring.”
At a total of 1.2 million jobs on the Island, the region is still 173,500 jobs short of the employment level reported in July 2019.
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