330,000-plus PUA applications processed, more than $7.4 billion in benefits paid since COVID-19 pandemic began
Despite early federal roadblocks, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have been approved for pandemic unemployment assistance
The New York State Department of Labor on Wednesday announced that, in just over a month, more than 330,000 New Yorkers have been approved for the pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) program, which provides unemployment benefits to individuals who do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance. In total, the Department of Labor has now paid $7.4 billion in unemployment benefits to New Yorkers since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March – three-and-a-half times the total paid in benefits last year.
In addition, the Department of Labor announced emergency measures to ensure unemployed New Yorkers who have been assessed forfeiture day penalties will receive benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. These actions, which suspend forfeiture days for the duration of the pandemic emergency, will allow more unemployed New Yorkers to receive financial support during this unprecedented crisis.
“Every state is facing a historic surge in unemployment claims, and New York is no different, but we have moved faster and more aggressively than others to get beneficiaries their money; and in just over two months have paid out over three-and-a-half years’ worth of benefits,” Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said. “We know New Yorkers are struggling, and we know they need support now, and we are working day and night to get money into more New Yorkers’ hands faster – including through these emergency measures – and we will continue to provide the support people need to help them weather this unprecedented crisis.”
Created by the Federal CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, the PUA program provides unemployment benefits to Americans who are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, including those who are self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers, farmers, and those who have other COVID-19 barriers to work.
The DOL said, “The program’s implementation has faced multiple setbacks from the federal government, including cumbersome guidance that required applicants to first apply for traditional unemployment insurance knowing they would be denied, receive a formal denial, and only then apply for PUA. In late April, that guidance was streamlined, and New York immediately launched an updated unemployment benefits application that allowed New Yorkers to seamlessly apply for either traditional unemployment insurance or PUA, depending on their eligibility.
“New York state is now able to process PUA applications rapidly and has approved over 330,000 New Yorkers for this program. As part of the Department of Labor’s proactive communication efforts, these New Yorkers are receiving emails and text messages to inform them that their applications have been approved and remind them to certify weekly to continue receiving benefits.”
In total, the DOL has now paid over $7.4 billion in unemployment benefits to New Yorkers, including traditional unemployment insurance, PUA, and additional $600 weekly payments under the federal pandemic unemployment compensation program. This is three-and-a-half times more than the $2.1 billion that was paid for unemployment benefits in all of 2019.
In addition, the DoL is announcing emergency actions to provide relief for New Yorkers who have been assessed “forfeiture day” penalties, which, under federal and New York state law, prevent individuals who knowingly claimed more unemployment benefits than they are eligible for from receiving future benefits for a specified number of days. For every four forfeiture days someone is assessed, that person must forfeit a week of future unemployment benefits.
Recognizing that many New Yorkers currently unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic lost their jobs through no fault of their own and have limited options to find employment, the DOL is providing immediate relief by suspending forfeiture days during the pandemic emergency. It said this will help more New Yorkers receive the financial support they need during this crisis.
Unemployed New Yorkers with forfeiture days on their accounts have already begun receiving the $600 weekly federal pandemic unemployment compensation payments. In addition, individuals with forfeiture days will now receive the traditional unemployment insurance (UI) or PUA benefits they would otherwise be eligible for. These payments will begin in approximately two weeks and will include back pay through today’s date. Those with other flags on their accounts, including child support payments and offset payments to reimburse the state for benefits they improperly received, will see payments reduced to continue to repay amounts owed.
The DOL said, “Throughout this crisis, New York has taken decisive action to ensure New Yorkers can receive their benefits, moving faster than other states to get money into unemployed individuals’ hands. Earlier actions include waiving the unemployment benefit waiting week, building and rolling out a new online application backed by Google Cloud technology in just a matter of weeks, and launching proactive communication efforts to ensure New Yorker complete federally required certifications and know the status of their claims.”