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Over 1 million New Yorkers could lose jobless aid after Christmas

A woman walks past an empty store on

A woman walks past an empty store on Main Street in Eastport in November. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

More than a million New Yorkers receiving a special form of unemployment aid meant for gig workers and the self-employed could lose their benefits after Christmas if Congress doesn’t move to extend the COVID-era assistance, according to U.S. Department of Labor data.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, created as part of the federal CARES Act earlier this year, extended unemployment payments to a class of workers traditionally excluded from normal unemployment insurance. But, as with other provisions from the CARES Act, PUA is set to expire across the country at the end of the year, effectively ending on Dec. 27 in New York.

PUA pays eligible recipients anywhere from $184 to $504 per week, depending on their recent earnings.

New York had roughly 1.2 million residents receiving PUA funds as of the week ended Nov. 14, U.S. Labor Department data shows. The number of Long Islanders receiving PUA benefits was not reported.

"Once you hit the Dec. 31 deadline, then everyone’s PUA switches off," said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project. "It’s pretty dire."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week wrote to Washington urging Congressional leaders to extend and renew aid-boosting programs that are set to expire.

While PUA recipients across the country will see payments end after Christmas unless extended by lawmakers, New Yorkers eligible for traditional unemployment insurance may be spared the worst of the looming end-of-year deadlines.

New York’s normal unemployment insurance, which pays a minimum of $104 and maximum of $504 each week, lasts for 26 weeks. Thanks to an extension called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation — another CARES Act program — benefits for those recipients are extended by another 13 weeks.

And while PEUC, like other federal pandemic-aid programs, expires at the end of the year, New York qualifies for a second federal extension of up to 20 weeks called Extended Benefits. Extended Benefits are triggered when a state's 13-week average unemployment rate is above 6%. New York's unemployment rate was 6.5% in October and has not been below 6% since March.

Extended Benefits, unlike PEUC or PUA, is not a product of the CARES Act and has no set expiration date, meaning non-gig workers receiving regular jobless aid don’t face the same end-of-year deadlines.

For example, an eligible New York unemployment insurance recipient who was laid off at the start of April and has remained unemployed would have exhausted his or her initial state-backed 26 weeks in late September. From there, PEUC’s 13-week extension would carry the recipient into late December. Once 13 weeks are exhausted — or the Dec. 31 expiration is reached — the recipient would then transition to up to 20 more weeks of aid under Extended Benefits.

"It’s going to vary by state but it’s the case that in every state that a significant number of people are going to be hurt if we don’t get some type of further federal assistance," said John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group.

Also on Thursday, the state Labor Department reported that Long Islanders filed 4,329 new jobless claims last week, down 7.8% from the week before. While dramatically lower than weekly claims filings much earlier in the pandemic, the number of new claims remains far above the same week in 2019, which had 1,620 claims.

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