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Providing Unemployment Assistance To Those Impacted By The COVID-19 Crisis

Washington, May 26, 2020

Dear friends,

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has decimated our nation's economy and led to a historic surge in unemployment claims. Independent contractors, gig workers, and self-employed individuals have been hit particularly hard because their income is generally not eligible for unemployment benefits. Understanding the economic reality of the crisis, and hearing from so many of my constituents about their own situations, I fought hard to ensure that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included coverage for all workers, regardless of what type of work they do. Signed into law on March 27, the stimulus package contains funding and provisions that will protect more laid-off and furloughed workers than ever before in American history, including individuals with non-traditional employment and those who are new to the job market.                              

While the CARES Act takes significant steps to meet the challenge of this moment, it is not a perfect bill and Congress must take further action to tackle the enormous impact of COVID-19. One thing the CARES Act does achieve is the creation of a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program through December 31, 2020, to provide payments to individuals who are unable to work as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also reinforces regular unemployment insurance by providing an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for eligible workers that can be used before December 31, 2020. This extension will support individuals who remain unemployed after they have exhausted their state unemployment benefits.

Additionally, the CARES Act contains an emergency increase in unemployment compensation benefits that will provide an additional $600 per week to individuals eligible for unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for up to four months.

On May 15, 2020, the House passed the Heroes Act. If signed into law, the Heroes Act would deliver nearly $1 trillion to state, local and tribal governments, provide meaningful economic relief to millions of Americans, and extend many of the critical programs created or expanded in the CARES Act. Under the Heroes Act, UI, PUA, and FPUC would be extended until January 2021. Additionally, the Heroes Act would give states the flexibility to use the most readily available sources of income verification for PUA applicants, including data from mobile apps and other non-traditional sources that are often used by gig workers, independent contractors, and the self-employed.

I understand that many of you have experienced difficulties with the application process and for weeks have been without the unemployment benefits to which you are entitled. The New York State Department of Labor is continuing to add staff and improve the filing process in order to get these much-needed funds into the hands of New Yorkers as quickly as possible. The unprecedented level of need during this crisis has overwhelmed the system as it existed before, but the New York State Department of Labor is working day and night to process the backlog of claims. If your claim is approved, your benefits will be backdated to the day you lost employment.

My office has created this guide to provide you with more information about the unemployment assistance programs in the CARES Act, as well as what you need to do to receive benefits.

What Unemployment Assistance programs are in the CARES Act?

• Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – Extended eligibility for individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

• Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – An additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits, beyond the regular 26 weeks already provided, for a total of 39 weeks of coverage.

• Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – An additional $600 per week, on top of regular benefits, to all unemployment insurance benefits recipients and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance recipients.

Unemployment Benefits for New York Residents

If you are a New York resident, eligibility information and frequently asked questions about the enhanced unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance created in the CARES Act can be found here. The New York State Department of Labor has also created a helpful factsheet on how self-employed residents can file. Out of state residents should contact their state's department of labor for more information.

Unemployment Insurance

Regular unemployment insurance (UI) generally covers individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own and meet their state's requirements for time in the labor force, wages earned, or both. The duration of UI benefits varies state by state, but most states provide up to 26 weeks of benefits.

More information: For additional information about UI, please read my factsheet here.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) makes unemployment benefits available exclusively to individuals that are unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Benefits may cover periods of unemployment up to 39 weeks and can be paid retroactively for periods of unemployment on, or after, January 27, 2020.

More information: For additional information about PUA, please read my factsheet here.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

The CARES Act provides a temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) of $600 per week to every recipient of UI or PUA for up to four months. FPUC will be paid in addition to UI or PUA benefits but may not come in the same check. FPUC, in combination with UI or PUA benefits, will cover 100% of wages for most U.S. workers. FPUC will not impact an individual's eligibility for other federal government assistance programs.

How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits:

If you have not yet filed for UI or PUA, the best way to do so is online. The NY State Department of Labor (DOL) has recently updated the unemployment application so New Yorkers can apply for PUA without having to first apply for traditional unemployment insurance first and get denied.

Here’s how to apply for benefits:

  1. Visit https://unemployment.labor.ny.gov
  2. The application will determine which program—unemployment insurance or PUA—you should apply for
  3. You're prompted to answer program-specific questions
  4. If DOL needs more info, they will call you
  5. If you already applied for traditional UI but may be eligible for PUA, DOL will contact you
  6. If you previously filed for UI and filled out a standalone PUA application, DOL is processing your application and will be in touch if they need to speak with you for more information

If DOL calls, your caller ID may show these calls as "PRIVATE CALLER.” We encourage you to answer so DOL can help you get your benefits as quickly as possible.

If you haven’t received a call yet, remember: if you are entitled to benefits, all benefits will be backdated to the day you were out of work. If you miss their call, DOL will call you back.

Weekly Certifications:

Once you have filed a claim for benefits, you must also claim weekly benefits for each week you are unemployed and meet the eligibility requirements. This is also called “certifying for benefits.” You can start certifying as soon as you receive a notice notification from the DOL. Going forward, DOL will send emails informing New Yorkers when they are able to begin certifying.

You must continue to certify every week you are unemployed in order to continue to receive benefits. During this process, you are confirming that you were unemployed for all or part of the past week and that you met all other conditions of receiving benefits. Each week you are certifying benefits you will be asked if you are ready, willing and able to work, and have been actively looking for work. If you are unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and New York State on PAUSE but would otherwise be able to work, you should answer 'YES' in order to receive your benefits.

The easiest way to certify is online at http://labor.ny.gov/signin.

  1. Login with your http://NY.GOV ID
  2. Click Unemployment Services on the My Online Services page
  3. Click Claim Weekly Benefits

If you cannot certify online, you can certify via DOL’s automated phone system. Call 1-888-581-5812 (for traditional unemployment insurance) or 1-833-324-0366 (for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) to certify.

Additional Resources

The House Committee on Ways and Means has provided multiple resources for individuals seeking further information about unemployment benefits.

• For additional unemployment resources included in the CARES Act and a helpful FAQ, click here.

• For additional resources from the House Committee on Ways and Means, click here.

FAQ

I have called but cannot get through to the NYS Unemployment Office to make my claim, can you help me?

The Department of Labor has added thousands of new staff to conduct calls to claimants and to process the backlog of claims. Remember that you should no longer need to call DOL to complete your application. If DOL needs more information from you, they will call you. Not everyone will need to be called. If you need to contact DOL because you believe there is an error in your claim, you can contact your NYS State Senator or NYS Assembly Member, who has direct oversight over the office, may be able to contact the office on your behalf.

I used up my 26 weeks of UI benefits before the CARES Act passed, or I began to claim UI benefits before the March 1 period. Do I still qualify for 13 additional weeks?

Yes, if you have exhausted 26 weeks of benefits after July 1, 2019, you may be eligible for an additional 13 weeks of benefits. The additional 13 weeks of benefits will include the FPUC until July 31, 2020.

I'm furloughed or on leave with my employer, but not technically laid off. Can I apply for UI under the new guidelines?

While unemployment benefits for furloughed employees typically vary from state to state, the CARES Act ensures that furloughed workers impacted by COVID-19 are eligible for unemployment compensation. Workers who are on sick leave, medical leave, or are receiving other paid leave benefits are not eligible.

I'm a freelance/contract worker, and I still am working several days per week but less than usual. Do I qualify for UI under the new guidelines?

While it varies from state to state, individuals that work less than four days in a week and earn less than $504 a week may be eligible for partial benefits. If you are a New York State resident, you can apply here, or by calling 1-888-209-8124 if you do not have access to a computer.

Why is my unemployment claim showing up as incomplete in the DOL system?

The number one reason New Yorkers’ applications are incomplete is because they are missing Federal Employer Identification Numbers (FEIN). You can find the FEIN for your employer(s) on your W-2 in the top left-hand corner. If you have submitted a claim without your FEIN, a DOL representative WILL call you to finish your claim. If you have not yet filed, be sure to include your employer's FEIN, NYS Employer Registration Number and full name/address on your application.

Will receiving UI affect whether I receive the stimulus rebate check?

No, receiving UI or PUA will not impact an individual's eligibility for the stimulus rebate check.

Is there anything different employers need to do to prepare for the influx of UI claims as opposed to prior years?

No, employers do not have additional responsibilities with respect to the employee relief provisions in the CARES Act. However, some states may impose other employer obligations with respect to UI and PUA.

What documentation do I need to provide to prove my situation qualifies for UI and/or is related to COVID-19?

Documentation requirements may vary from state to state. If you are a New York State resident, you can learn more here, or by calling 1-888-209-8124 if you do not have access to a computer.

Where should I file if I live in New York but work in another state, or if I work in multiple states?

Generally, you should file your claim with the state where you worked. If you worked in a state other than New York, you should file there. If you worked in multiple states, you can file in any one of them and should include your income from all states in your application. Each state has different rules and processes for filing.

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