The pressure is building up to extend unemployment benefits in New York, but Hochul remains uncertain

Governor Kathy Hochul is under increasing pressure to extend unemployment benefits across the state, amid a looming federal deadline that will soon interrupt pandemic financial aid to more than a million New Yorkers.

Three major unemployment programs that have pumped about $ 3 billion a month into New York City’s economy alone expire on September 5th. While President Joe Biden has urged states with high unemployment rates to extend the programs, Hochul has not yet set a position.

“We will soon have more to say about this,” a spokesman for Hochul wrote in an email to WNYC / Gothamist. “No decision has been made so far.”

Earlier this week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the improved benefits expire according to plan. So far, no state leaders have indicated they plan to extend the programs.

But behind the scenes, some of New York’s most powerful unions, backed by top Democratic lawmakers, are pushing the new governor to act – and warn that the imminent cutoff could hit the state’s fragile economic recovery hard.

Last month, New York’s second-highest unemployment rate among all states was driven by a 10.5% borough rate, nearly double the national average.

In an internal memo circulating among lawmakers, the influential Hotel Trades Council, which represents hospitality workers, warned of a “shock to New Yorkers and the overall state economy” when the benefits expire next week.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will fall off a cliff on Monday,” an HTC official predicted, noting that more than half of the union’s 35,000 members were left without work. Members of the New York State AFL-CIO have also begun lobbying lawmakers, sources say.

One option under consideration would involve freezing the $ 504 weekly ceiling on state unemployment – replacing some or all of the $ 300 weekly supplement from the federal government. The funding would come out of the nearly $ 22 billion in stimulus money the state received earlier this summer.

But lifting the current ceiling would require state legislation. When lawmakers returned to Albany on Wednesday for an “extraordinary” special session to pass a new moratorium on eviction, some discussed the possibility of resurfacing to process unemployment benefits.

Others, including Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy majority leader of the state Senate, believed such an extension could be achieved by Hochul and the Department of Labor without legislative action. “But I will support it being done in any way,” Gianaris added.

The programs ready to end next week include the pandemic unemployment assistance used by group workers and the self-employed; the federal pandemic unemployment benefit, a $ 300 weekly supplement on state aid; and the pandemic extended unemployment benefit, which provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits to those who have exhausted their state benefits.

In a letter published Last month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Labor Secretary Martin Walsh said some states should consider extending benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed in areas with high unemployment rates.

Many in New York’s business, meanwhile, are anxiously awaiting the end of the enhanced benefits they claim have encouraged workers to stay home. According to Kathryn Wylde, CEO of Partnership for NYC, labor shortages have hit the city’s small and family-owned businesses hardest

But so do economists pointed out that New York’s recovery has been uneven, with several industries, e.g. the hospitality and arts sector, still struggling to come back. An estimated 542,000 jobs across the city have disappeared since the start of the pandemic – many of which may not return for years, according to Wylde.

“From a business standpoint, the smart thing to do with federal funds would have been to develop a strategy around the permanent changes in the economy that will take place after COVID,” Wylde noted. “Unfortunately, it has not been a major focus.”

Jo Ann Bullard, a 59-year-old Bronx woman, is one of about 750,000 city dwellers who will see their benefits disappear completely next week. She was previously a human resources manager in a small non-profit company and has submitted over 600 job applications since the start of the pandemic, she said.

Respondents have only offered temporary positions without health care, a requirement for Bullard whose husband suffers from long-term symptoms of COVID-19. Together, they have received a total of $ 700 a week under two federal unemployment programs, both of which have expired without government action.

In recent weeks, Bullard has started tweeting and emailing Hochul’s office, but has not yet received a response.

“I’ve used up my savings, my 401K, we live unemployment checks after unemployment checks,” Bullard said. “We’re worried and it’s starting to feel like someone’s shit about us.”

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