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NYS unemployment benefits rising to $420 a week

Prospective employees use computers to search for jobs

Prospective employees use computers to search for jobs at the Suffolk County One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge Friday, March 21, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

On Monday, the state's maximum unemployment benefits payment will rise to $420 a week, from $405, the first increase in 14 years.

New York will still lag behind its neighbors. In New Jersey, the weekly maximum is $636, and Connecticut's goes up to $594 on Sunday. New York's minimum benefit will increase to $100, from $64.

The state's benefit increases are part of unemployment-insurance reform that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law last year. As part of that overhaul, regulations that took effect on Jan. 1 make it harder for laid-off workers to qualify for benefits while receiving severance pay. And employers' unemployment-insurance taxes increased.

The reform is aimed at replenishing the unemployment insurance fund, which has been running deficits because of soaring benefit claims during the economic recovery. Workers can collect benefits for up to 26 weeks.

But opinions over aspects of the overhaul are mixed.

"This was long overdue," said Roger Clayman, executive director of the Hauppauge-based Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, whose group helped to push for the higher payment.

Martin Melkonian, associate professor of economics at Hofstra University, said the extra $60 a month will help stimulate consumer spending.

"I think you will see slightly more sales, and that will of course assist Long Island merchants," he said.

But Robert Basso, president and founder of Advantage Payroll Services in Freeport, said the higher taxes penalize employers twice, especially when a slow economy prompts layoffs. Employers' unemployment insurance rates rise when their laid-off workers collect unemployment benefits.

"Not only is your business going down," he said. "You have the potential to have a tax increase on the remaining individuals at your company."

Employers must pay taxes on the first $10,300 of each employee's wages, up from $8,500. That wage base will rise every year until topping out at $13,000 on Jan. 1, 2026.

As for benefits eligibility, jobless workers generally won't qualify while they receive severance payments that exceed the maximum weekly unemployment benefit amount. Previous eligibility rules allowed laid-off workers to receive benefits and severance payments simultaneously, regardless of their severance amounts.

The state Labor Department estimates unemployment insurance reforms, such as the more restrictive benefit standard, will save employers $400 million statewide over 10 years, including $60 million on Long Island.

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