Tens of thousands of Long Islanders will lose their unemployment benefits entirely on Sunday, and the weekly payments to thousands more will be cut by $300 when key federal aid programs enacted for the pandemic expire.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, a program that for the first time provided aid to out-of-work freelancers, Uber drivers and others who are self-employed, will end, as will initiatives that extended benefits for people who’ve been unemployed for more than six months.
In addition, the program that throughout the COVID-19 crisis paid jobless Americans a federal supplement on top of their state unemployment insurance — most recently $300 a week — is being eliminated completely.
During the week ended Aug. 14, there were 257,915 New Yorkers receiving aid as part of their regular 26 weeks of unemployment; 900,415 receiving PUA; and 667,775 receiving aid through two extension programs, the labor department reported. A breakdown of recipients on Long Island was not available. The latter two groups will see benefits end entirely, while the first group will continue to receive payments, minus the $300 federal supplement, until they reach their 26-week maximum.
Without the federal supplement, state unemployment payments range from $108 to $504 per week, depending on previous earnings.
Congress created the expanded aid programs last year after the pandemic erupted; they were extended in March. Lawmakers had expected that with more people vaccinated against COVID-19 and hiring picking up, the pandemic and its impact on the economy would be fading by now. Business owners complained that the $300 federal boost was discouraging the unemployed from taking jobs. While the economy is rebounding, economists now worry that the delta variant may once again slow hiring and growth.
For those struggling to find jobs, the loss of benefits will create more financial hardship and add extra urgency to their job searches.
Among those who will lose assistance is Chris Palermo of Ronkonkoma, who has been receiving benefits under the PUA program.
Palermo, 52, lost his job in corporate communications in March 2020 just as COVID-19 began to spread in New York. Since then he’s continued to look for work while overseeing his 9-year-old son’s remote schooling.
While he said his family "still would have survived" without the extra funds, there’s no doubt finances would have been more difficult.
"Like most middle class Long Islanders, I don’t have a swimming pool filled with dollar bills in the back yard," Palermo said.
His job search has felt promising at times; he said he made it through nine rounds of interviews for one company. But he’s received no offers.
"I started to realize earlier this year that job hunting is a contact sport," Palermo said. "I have to continue to tell myself and believe that there is a company out there that recognizes both the importance and value I bring to the company."
Gregory DeFreitas, senior labor economics professor at Hofstra University, said the end of the enhanced benefits will be difficult for some. But overall, he said, the economy has improved dramatically since last year’s shutdowns.
In July, 76,200 Long Islanders were counted as unemployed, down from 193,000 in July 2020, state Department of Labor figures show. During that time, the Island's unemployment rate dropped from 12.6% to 5.2%.
"Some groups are still hurting badly, but broadly speaking, it’s not nearly as dire a situation as it would have been had benefits been cut off last year," DeFreitas said. Last year, he and other economists spoke of the importance of continuing extra unemployment to offset negative impacts on consumer spending, the backbone of the U.S. economy.
"However, we need to be cautious going forward because of the delta threat and not rule out that if things go south, we may have to deal with any future rises in unemployment through supplementary benefits," he said.
Aneida Lee of Huntington Station said the end of the extra benefits will place additional pressure on her job search.
"I’ve been feverishly trying to find employment," said Lee, who lost her office job of 33 years last September after the company moved out of state. The severance package she received ran out in March and she's been collecting unemployment since. "I’ve gone to three in-person job fairs. I’m on Indeed, Career Builder, and ZipRecruiter. Every time something comes up, I apply."
To improve her odds, Lee, who is in her late 50s,said she’s taken courses in medical office administration in the hopes of applying her previous office management skill set in a job sector she doesn’t see shrinking anytime soon.
While she’s been looking, the extra $300 a week has been a major help in keeping her mortgage paid and avoiding emptying her savings. With that ending, she said she’s not sure how far regular state unemployment will go if she can’t find a position soon.
"I didn’t want to be stuck in a place where the funds are ending, and I don’t have a job," she said. "The way it is now, when I get unemployment, it would take a whole month of unemployment payments just to pay my mortgage."
"I don’t think I can live on whatever my base unemployment would be," she said.
Jackie Maragni, 28, of West Babylon, agreed the extra $300 has been a big help. She had reached her 26-week maximum and was on a federal extension, so all her benefits stop Sunday.
"It's definitely helped cover bills, cover groceries," she said. The extra funds even allowed Maragni and her husband to pay off their car early. "I won't have that extra money coming in September when it ends."
Maragni, who has an 11-month-old daughter, said that without a college degree, many of the jobs that would hire her would pay too little to justify the cost of child care.
"With my background, child care would most likely cost more a week than what I would be getting paid," said Maragni, who lost her job in March 2020. Many of the jobs she’s seen online pay at or around minimum wage – $14 on Long Island – she said.
Maragni continues to look for remote work and hopes things will work out.
"I am a little worried," she said. "It’s a bit stressful. But I'm going to take it in stride that things are going to work out. I've been saving money while I can with the extra $300. Hopefully, that will work out for long enough."
Which programs are ending?
- $300 federal supplement to state unemployment
- All benefits for the self-employed, such as freelancers or Uber drivers
- All benefits for those who have been on unemployment for more than 6 months
Claimants who are unsure about their status, or think they may still be due benefits for past weeks, should report their employment status at on.ny.gov/38TTWDj