Nonprofit leaders serving some of Long Island’s most in need say the recent loss of enhanced unemployment benefits is having an impact locally, even as the number of new jobless claims reached the lowest level since March.
“When folks have called in for assistance, they have brought up the fact that they lost their extra $600,” said Rebecca Sanin, president and chief executive of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, which helps connect Long Islanders with social service programs and other aid.
“People are really experiencing tremendous anxiety about how they’re going to pay their rent, how they are going to put food on the table,” she said.
Sanin said that many of those reaching out to her organization are looking for assistance with applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp benefits.
For many, she said, the extra $600 in unemployment benefits made them ineligible for SNAP assistance. Now, lacking the extra funds, many more are finding themselves in financial crisis, she said.
The $600 bonus, which came out of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, ended on July 31. With the federal enhancement, eligible New Yorkers received anywhere from $782 to $1,104 a week in jobless benefits. With the supplement now ended, weekly payments have dropped back to New York’s regular unemployment benefit level, with weekly payments ranging from $182 to $504.
The House and Senate are currently in negotiations over extending the federal benefit, with the Senate pushing for a lower bonus amount.
At the same time Sanin’s organization is seeing increased need from jobless Long Islanders, state data showed a weekly decline in the number of new unemployment claims.
Just over 7,600 Long Islanders filed jobless claims last week, down 12.6% from the more than 8,700 who filed claims the week prior.
While last week’s numbers are the lowest they’ve been since the state began posting weekly unemployment claim figures in late March, it’s still 486% above the number of claims for the same week in 2019.
Long Island hit an all-time high of over 59,000 claims the week ended April 11.
The recent Island numbers are in line with declines seen on the national level during the same week, when the number of new jobless claims declined by 249,000 from the week before. Still, the number of unemployment claims across the country remain stubbornly high at nearly 1.2 million claims last week.
"The numbers are going in the right direction, the loss of enhanced unemployment payments is going in the wrong direction," said Gregory DeFreitas, senior labor economics professor at Hofstra University and director of the Center for Labor and Democracy. "We have to get all the arrows moving in the right direction if we're going to survive the pandemic.”
DeFreitas said that while the number of jobless claims has declined for the fourth week in a row — a first for claims during the health crisis — if Congress can't reach a compromise and extend enhancements to jobless aid it will mean "nothing good" for the economy.
"That’s going to cut into consumer spending and jobs," he said. "In addition to that, you have a lot of businesses that took out the PPP loans assuming that would ride them through the worst of this.
"We’re seeing more and more stories now and surveys of businesses saying, ‘I stuck it out as long as I could.’”
Paule Pachter, chief executive of food distribution nonprofit Long Island Cares, said that if no additional aid comes from Washington to replace the lapsed $600 payments, the need for emergency food assistance will be driven up, as well as the need for mental health services.
“What we're up against on Long Island is something that people don’t talk about enough: The majority of the people that live here are living paycheck to paycheck," Pachter said.