Unemployment benefits in New York are generally available to those who meet state law eligibility requirements. The newly enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act also expands state unemployment insurance programs to provide benefits for individuals who might otherwise not qualify, and to increase the amount and duration of available benefits.
Eligibility Under New York Law
In order to receive unemployment insurance benefits in New York, the following requirements must be met:
- Employment was terminated or employee’s hours were significantly reduced through no fault of the employee;
- Employee can prove sufficient prior earnings to establish a claim;
- Employee is ready, willing, able to work;
- Employee is actively seeking employment and provides documented proof of such attempts (unless waived by New York State Department Of Labor); and
- Employee worked in New York within the last eighteen (18) months.
Generally, an employee is considered to have been terminated through no fault of his or her own if the termination was the result of a lack of work, seasonal employment, corporate restructuring, or any other reason that is out of control of the employee.
Limitations on Benefits
The amount an employee is eligible to collect under New York’s unemployment insurance program depends on his or her recent earnings history. At a maximum, an employee may collect $504 per week for 26 weeks under New York’s program. If a person is still unemployed after 26 weeks, he or she may be eligible for continued emergency unemployment compensation.
If a person’s hours are reduced, or they are able to find part-time work after termination, he or she may be eligible for partial unemployment benefits. Partial unemployment is only available to employees working three days per week or less. For each full or partial day of work, the employee’s weekly benefit amount will be reduced by 25%.
Enhanced Unemployment Insurance Benefits Under the CARES Act
The CARES Act provides for expanded unemployment insurance benefits to provide direct relief to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is normally a seven (7) day waiting period before an employee can apply for unemployment benefits. The CARES Act eliminates all such eligibility waiting periods if an employee is terminated for a COVID-19 related reason, and provides funding to states to cover the cost of unemployment benefits during that week.
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) provision of the CARES Act extends the period for receiving unemployment benefits (26 weeks, in the case of New York) by 13 weeks for individuals who have exhausted their benefits but are able, available, and actively seeking work. The federal government will reimburse states for 13 weeks of PEUC. However, states are required to be flexible in determining whether a person is able to work or is looking for work because they are sick, quarantined or subject to stay-at-home orders.
The CARES Act also creates the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), which provides unemployment insurance benefits to persons who: (1) would not otherwise qualify for state law unemployment and PEUC benefits; (2) have exhausted their right to state law or PEUC benefits; (3) are self-employed; (4) are seeking part-time employment; or (5) do not have sufficient work history. An individual who meets these criterion is eligible for PUA benefits for up to thirty-nine weeks if he or she is unable to telework, is not receiving other paid leave benefits and:
- He/she has, or has symptoms of, COVID-19;
- A member of his/her household has COVID-19;
- He/she is caring for a family or household member who has COVID-19;
- He/she is a primary caregiver for a child or other household member whose school or facility has closed as a result of COVID-19;
- He/she cannot go to work because of a COVID-19 related quarantine;
- He/she cannot go to work because his/her healthcare provider recommends self-quarantining;
- He/she was supposed to start a new job, but has lost that job or cannot go to work as a result of COVID-19;
- He/she has become the primary wage earner for a household because the former head of the household died of COVID-19;
- He/she had to quit his/her job because of COVID-19; or
- His/her workplace closed because of COVID-19.
PUA applies retroactively to January 27, 2020 and extends through December 31, 2020.
The CARES Act also creates Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), which provides for an additional $600 per week on top of an individual’s state unemployment insurance benefit, PUA benefit or PEUC benefit. This additional benefit begins on April 5, 2020, and sunsets on July 31, 2020. According to NYSDOL’s website, individuals do not need to do anything to claim the PUC benefit; it will automatically be added to benefit payments made after April 5, 2020.
Unemployment insurance benefits that are ordinarily available to New Yorkers will substantially increase in amount and duration as a result of the CARES Act. In some instances, low wage earners may even be eligible to make more through expanded unemployment until July 31, 2020, than the would have if they continued working as a resulted of the additional $600 PUC benefit. Employers and employees will need to factor this into decisions they make in pursuing other forms of government assistance, including forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans.