After months of negotiations, lawmakers reached an agreement over the weekend on a $900 billion stimulus package that was passed by Congress on Monday. (If you’d like to read the bill, it’s about 5,500 pages long.) For millions of struggling Americans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, some help appears to be on the way, barring any last-minute changes instigated by President Donald Trump.
Here’s what it all means for those with or seeking unemployment benefits
- Extra benefits but less than before: The new Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation bill provides an additional $300 per week for all workers receiving or eligible for unemployment benefits. (This is half of what was provided under the CARES Act, which expired in July.) This new benefit runs from Dec. 26, 2020, through March 14, 2021.
NOTE: The extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits will automatically apply to recipients, but it has to be administered by the state. So it’s possible this could take some time and some of these benefits could end up getting delivered retroactively, Farrell Brody, a workers’ rights attorney at TakeRoot Justice said.
- 11 more weeks: The new package also extended the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides additional weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to those who exhaust their regular state benefits. So, for folks eligible for traditional unemployment insurance (UI), here’s the math: You get 26 weeks of state benefits, 13 weeks of CARES Act benefits and now 11 weeks of the newly extended PEUC for a total of 50 weeks. (You may also be eligible for an additional 20 weeks through New York’s Extended Benefits program.) The latest federal extension will close to new applicants on March 14, 2021. If a recipient hasn’t reached their total benefits by then, payments will run through April 5.
- Same for the self-employed, freelancers and gig workers: The 11 extra weeks also extend to those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which is the unemployment help for self-employed workers, freelancers and gig workers who traditionally do not qualify for regular UI. These workers now also receive 50 weeks of benefits (plus an additional seven weeks available through New York’s Extended Benefits program). The latest extension will close to new applicants on March 14, 2021. If a recipient hasn’t reached their total benefits by then, payments will run through April 5.
- An extra $100 per week for some: Some workers have both wage income (as recorded on a W-2 form) and are self-employed (like freelancers). Due to the pandemic, these workers may have lost both jobs. A worker could get traditional UI due to losing their wage job. But if they made more than $5,000 of self-employment income, they would be ineligible for PUA and their unemployment benefits could be significantly less. Now workers who can’t get PUA may be eligible for an extra $100 per week, in addition to the extra $300.
Is there anything else workers should know?
Yes. The bill will provide a tax credit to support employers offering paid sick leave, based on the framework of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. That’s the law requiring certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19. We wrote about this in our last update. It wasn’t immediately clear how this breaks down for New York City, but we’ll keep you posted.
But wait, there’s more…
There are a lot of other provisions outlined in the bill that will affect New Yorkers, including money for mass transit and aid for those grappling with food and housing insecurity.
Here’s a good Q&A from The New York Times on the stimulus and a summary of where the $900 billion is going from The Washington Post.
Know your rights: Wage and hour laws
Out of pandemic-driven economic desperation, some employers may be exploiting workers and violating wage and hour laws, Elissa Devins, founder of the Employment Law Project at NYLAG, told us. This could include paying employees less than minimum wage, less than what they’ve earned or withholding wages.
Brody of TakeRoot Justice said: “Desperation leads to … more minimum wage violations, more unpaid wages claims. I hear more reports of employment agencies placing people in less-than-minimum wage jobs. That’s a scam right now.”
So here’s what you should know:
By law, you must be paid minimum wage.
- In New York City, minimum wage is $15 per hour for businesses of all sizes.
- In Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, it is $13 per hour.
- In the remainder of the state, it is $11.80 per hour.
The only exception is workers who receive tips, such as food service workers — they may make a lower wage across New York State. But employers are still obligated to ensure that the wage plus tips total at least the minimum, and to make up the difference if necessary.
You can file an unpaid wages claim if your employer:
- Withheld your tips for any reason
- Did not pay you for all hours you’ve worked (including on-the-job training)
- Lowered your rate of pay without prior notice
- Gave you a paycheck that bounced due to “not sufficient funds” (NSF)
You can file a minimum wage/ overtime pay claim if your employer:
- Paid you less than the current minimum wage, the fast-food minimum wage or the tipped-worker minimum wage
- Did not pay you an overtime rate for hours worked over 40 in one week (most employees must be paid 1½ times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek, but there are some exceptions).
You can file an unpaid wage supplements claim if your employer promised you (verbally or in writing), but did not provide earned:
- Vacation pay
- Holiday pay
More: To see all of the reasons why you might file a wages claim against your employer, go here.
Working from home? Here are a few tips to stay relatively balanced
Many of us have been working from home for a long while now. You may already have your routine in check. But, if you need some tips or some ideas, Ellen Mehling from Brooklyn Public Library’s Business & Career Center has a few on how to successfully and healthily work from home:
- 📅 Develop a pre-work routine: This could include making coffee, having breakfast, stretching or working out before starting the workday, reviewing and fine-tuning your to-do list, etc.
- 🖥 Design an effective workspace: If you can, create a workspace in your home where you have the things you need to work effectively close at hand, and set it up in a way that is comfortable for you and free from interruptions and distractions.
- 🕑 Figure out what times of the day you’re most productive: Depending on your role and employer, you may have more freedom in a work-from-home situation to work how and when you prefer. Many people will want to confine work to certain predictable hours while others may prefer to switch between work and other activities during the day. Make sure to have time for yourself each day that is truly off-duty.
- 🗣 Communication is key: Your employer should be clear on what is expected of you, re: working hours and how flexible they are, preferred methods of communication, availability and response times, deadlines, frequency of meetings and whether cameras must be on, etc.
- 💆 Self-care is crucial for your mental and physical health, especially now. Make time for rest, relaxation, spending time — virtually or in person — with friends and loved ones. Find opportunities for exercise, meditation, and/or other non-work activities, to avoid burn-out. Eat healthy, nutritious meals.
If you have specific questions about working or unemployment in New York City during the pandemic or something else you think we should cover, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more jobs, work and unemployment resources, here’s what New Yorkers who attended THE CITY’s Open Newsroom shared. If you see something you believe we should include, tell us.