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NY to apply for additional federal unemployment benefits

ALBANY — New York will join a federal program that will provide enhanced unemployment benefits of about $300 a week to workers who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis and economic shutdown, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday.

President Donald Trump’s “lost wages” grant program is expected to provide another $300 each week to workers for four or five weeks. New York had been among more than half the states that hadn’t applied in part because the plan had required a state funding match, but relented Friday because the federal government dropped the matching funds requirement.

"Now that the federal government has blinked and will no longer make states provide funding they do not have, New York State will apply for the Lost Wages Assistance program,” said Robert Mujica, Cuomo’s budget director. “As Governor Cuomo has said, politics does not impact policy — especially during a pandemic — and if New Yorkers are in need, this administration will do everything we can to support them.”

Once the state applies, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates it will take three weeks or more for unemployed workers to receive the benefit. States may add an additional $100 to the benefit, but states including New York are already tapped out because of the pandemic and lost tax revenues and won’t be able to boost the grants to $400, a Cuomo spokesman said.

Last week, jobless claims on Long Island rose for the first time in more than a month. The jump of 6,500 claims was a 24% increase from the week before and demonstrated that the economic drag of the virus continues even as the state reopens more businesses. Nationally, 1.1 million people filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

The $44 billion lost wages plan was created by Trump’s executive order on Aug. 8 amid a stalemate in Congress over competing proposals that would provide more help to states and the unemployed. But questions continued over how to pay for it, who would qualify for the aid, and how quickly it could reach idled workers facing an end to a $600 bonus in unemployment benefits.

Democrats that control the House were holding out for a larger plan that could have doubled the added unemployment plan.

The U.S. Department of Labor did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Mujica, Cuomo’s budget director, said the state’s entry into the program doesn’t mean it is dropping its fight for a larger stimulus bill from Washington. That effort includes New York’s continued desire to repeal Trump’s cap on state and local taxes, or SALT, on federal income tax returns.

“Make no mistake, this does not absolve Washington from doing its job,” Mujica said Friday. “They must pass a comprehensive aid package that provides a stable extension of unemployment benefits, repeals the SALT cap and supports local and state governments. Anything else would simply be unacceptable."