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Long Island's weekly unemployment claims drop 31% 

Though lower, last week's claims were still almost

Though lower, last week's claims were still almost four times what they were during the same week last year. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Weekly unemployment claims on Long Island have declined to their lowest level since the pandemic began as state officials and policy experts wrestle with the potential impact of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order calling for a temporary extension of extra unemployment payments.

Jobless claims on Long Island fell to 5,300 last week, a nearly 31% decrease from the more than 7,600 initial claims filed the week before. The new data, released by the state Labor Department Thursday, shows that claims have declined for the fifth week in a row.

Still, claims remain much higher than is normal. During the same period last year — the week ended Aug. 8 — unemployment claims hit 1,400.

The week's decline in claims comes just after the $600 federally funded enhancement payment to the unemployed ended on July 31.

The $600 came out of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, and congressional approval would be needed to resume or replace that bonus. With that federal enhancement, eligible New Yorkers received anywhere from $782 to $1,104 a week in jobless payments. 

Since the program ended, weekly payments in the state have dropped to between $182 and $504, New York’s regular unemployment benefit.

Congress is in negotiations over extending the federal benefit, though no deal appears to have gained traction.

On Saturday, Trump signed a memorandum meant to enhance unemployment payments for jobless Americans by a total of $400. The memo would set aside $44 billion from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, and it sought to have states chip in $100 a week.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Labor clarified Wednesday that the president's memo did not, in fact, require the states to contribute an extra $100, but only sought to ensure that recipients of the $300 are also receiving at least $100 from the state in “underlying unemployment benefits.”

Despite the memo initially being touted as a $400 boost to jobless aid, the order only provides for an extra $300 and faces legal, logistic and state funding challenges that bring its rollout into question, experts said.

Unemployed Long Islanders could expect to see those extra funds “anytime between two months from now and never,” said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project.

Evermore said because the funding source for the proposed payment boost is not earmarked for unemployment aid, there are questions about whether the order could legally be carried out by states, which administer unemployment. On top of that, because the proposed program would require additional administrative staffing and processing costs, it’s unlikely states would be able to put a process in place quickly.

“I would budget with the expectation that this isn’t showing up and, if it does, great,” Evermore said offering advice to those on unemployment. “People heard from the president you’re getting an extra $400, and nobody is getting $400.”

Addressing elected officials during a public hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce Thursday morning, state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said the president's memo lacked details on implementation.

“We have yet to receive any guidance from the federal government,” Reardon said, further calling the proposed action “garbled.”

The state says it has paid out nearly $40 billion in unemployment benefit programs, including federally backed Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, since the crisis began. New York currently has a 0% interest line of credit with the federal government to help cover unemployment payouts.

The Labor Department also announced Thursday that it had prevented $1 billion in unemployment funds from falling into the hands of fraudulent claimants using stolen identities, halting more than 42,000 fraudulent jobless claims since the start of the pandemic.

“These scammers have been stealing hardworking New Yorkers’ identities for years waiting to strike, but we will not let them succeed,” Reardon said in a statement.

With Tom Brune

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