Christen Mann is concerned about the size of the unemployment...

Christen Mann is concerned about the size of the unemployment check when her current gig with the U.S. Census ends. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

New jobless claims on Long Island dropped slightly last week as unemployed New Yorkers receive smaller checks and wait for a $300 boost to their weekly unemployment insurance payments.

Initial unemployment claims on the Island fell to 6,280 last week, a decrease of nearly 4.5% from the 6,580 claims filed the week before. While the number of weekly claims has fallen over the course of the pandemic – the Island hit a high of more than 59,000 claims during one week in April – the number of Long Islanders filing for unemployment remains historically high.

During the same week last year, only 2,013 Long Islanders filed for jobless aid.  

Congress, having failed to renew or replace the extra $600 in federally funded unemployment payments, remains on recess until Labor Day.

Amid the congressional inaction, New York joined a growing number of states that have been approved for a temporary bump of $300 in weekly unemployment payments. The funding, called Lost Wages Assistance, which was put in place through a presidential memo, sets aside $44 billion from the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund for use by participating states to enhance their jobless benefits by $300 for at least three weeks.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates it will take three weeks or more for states to disperse the extra benefit to unemployed workers, though officials with New York have not given a timeline as they make logistical changes to handle the new funding source.

Christen Mann, 48, of Southampton, who lost her job as a hotel manager last year, and had been receiving the $600 bonus before taking a temporary gig with the U.S. Census, said she is concerned about the size of the unemployment check when her current gig ends. Receiving a minimum of $182  per week on unemployment “will not be enough to pay my bills,” she said.

In an FAQ posted to the state Labor Department’s website Thursday, the agency said that those receiving regular unemployment insurance and those receiving the federally backed Pandemic Unemployment Assistance would both qualify for the weekly boost.

Additionally, DOL said it is “unclear at this time how many weeks of payments will ultimately be released by the federal government.” The length of the FEMA funding is dependent on whether the Disaster Relief Fund balance falls below $25 billion, whether the $44 billion set aside for the new program is depleted by other states, or whether Congress enacts a replacement relief program.

Given the continued wildfires in California, the recent derecho storm in Iowa, and the impact of Hurricane Laura, some policy analysts worry about the longevity of the FEMA program.

“After funds start going out for the fires, and after Iowa gets its money … “that’s coming out of the same pot” as the Lost Wages Assistance, said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project. “The more states that participate, the less far the money can go. If that money is spent before LWA goes out, that’s less money for LWA.”

While the Long Island economy continues to open, Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of food bank Long Island Harvest, said her organization  is seeing a high demand for food aid  and services.   

“At almost every distribution we’ll find that once we shut down, there will be people who come afterward to line up,” she said. “If someone’s been out of work for a while, it takes a while for them to get their feet back on the ground again, whether they were getting additional support or not.”

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