As millions of COVID-19-battered hospitality workers remain unemployed — with few foreseeable job prospects — the U.S. Senate recessed for the weekend without agreeing on whether to extend the $600 federal pandemic checks. The good news, however, is that New York State has already stepped in to offer more help to some of its hardest hit residents.
Earlier this month, the state labor department announced that a so-called Extended Benefits program would go into effect, offering an additional 20 weeks of unemployment assistance to individuals. That brings the total number of benefit weeks up to 59 — well over a year’s worth of aid.
Those extra weeks will only include state benefits for now, which vary depending on one’s former salary but top out at $504 per week. If Congressional Democrats and Republicans come to an agreement on further jobless aid, which they’re expected to before August 5, residents on the extended unemployment programs will be eligible for that assistance as well.
Here’s a brief explainer on precisely what’s going on here: Traditional state unemployment lasts for about half a year, or 26 weeks, but the federal CARES Act created the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, which extends benefits for another 13 weeks. That went into effect on April 5.
Extended Benefits, according to an FAQ by the state labor department, take effect under state law once a high level of unemployment is met. That program can offer either 13 or 20 additional weeks, depending on whether the federal government believes New York has “high unemployment,” or “extremely high unemployment.”
New York, with a state unemployment rate of 15.7 percent in June, qualified for 20 weeks. In the city, hit hardest by the pandemic, the unemployment rate was a massive 20.4 percent that same month. Food and drink places in the five boroughs now employ nearly 200,000 fewer people than before the pandemic, a jobless rate of about 60 percent.
Those currently eligible for Extended Benefits were likely already unemployed last November, before COVID-19 began ravaging the U.S., though more people will certainly take advantage of the program in the coming months. Indoor dining and drinking, including in malls, is still banned in the city, which structurally limits the amount of rehiring many restaurants can do.