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Change Coming for Part-time Workers Receiving Unemployment Benefits

THE CITY’s Open Newsroom team breaks down some of the latest info about jobs in NYC. Sign up for our newsletter for the latest updates.

Anthony Nam started making face masks from his Ridgewood, Queens, apartment after losing his job during the coronavirus outbreak.
Anthony Nam started making face masks from his Ridgewood apartment after losing his job during the coronavirus outbreak, April 8, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

That COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress last month added both money and extra weeks to federal unemployment benefits. Since we published our last newsletter outlining what was in the stimulus package for unemployed workers, some of you have written in with questions.

First, a bit of news:

There’s been a recent change in the partial benefits system

Part-time workers can now base their unemployment claims on the hours they work in a week and not the days, according to a Jan. 18 announcement by Gov. Cuomo.

Prior to that day, weekly benefits were calculated based on the number of days you work. This meant that for each day you worked — whether you worked one hour or eight — your benefits would be reduced by 25%. It also meant anyone who worked four or more days per week — no matter how few hours they were working or how little they were making — would not receive any benefits.

Under the new system, you can now work as many days as you can and still receive some employment benefits as long as you:

  • Work fewer than 30 hours
  • Earn no more than $504 in total pay a week (the same pay threshold as before)

Here’s the new method of calculating part-time payments. If you:

  • Work up to four hours in a week and earn no more than $504, you will receive your full unemployment benefit
  • Work between four and 10 hours in a week and earn no more than $504, you will receive 75% of your unemployment benefit
  • Work between 10 and 20 hours in a week and earn no more than $504, you will receive 50% of your unemployment benefit
  • Work between 20 and 30 hours in a week and earn no more than $504, you will receive 25% of your unemployment benefit
  • Work more than 30 hours in a week, regardless of earnings, you are not eligible

A note on certifying: The New York State Department of Labor certification system will still ask for the number of days you worked, so you need to figure out how the number of hours worked translates to the number of days to report. This can be a bit tricky — for example, you should only count up to 10 hours per day — so be sure to follow the graph below:

Nicole Salk, senior staff attorney at the nonprofit Legal Services NYC, said: “Our New York partial unemployment insurance rule… is the worst in the entire country. The governor’s recent Executive Order requiring the Department of Labor to count hours rather than days of work will help many workers, but there are other legislative efforts out there that allow for a partial disregard of earnings, which would help more workers and put New York in line with almost every other state’s partial unemployment laws.”

Note: Regardless of your hours, even if you go over 30 in a given week, you should not skip the weekly recertification process, according to Nicole Quinn, program director for CUCS Connects at the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS).

Quinn said: “It’s important to continue recertifying so that your case isn’t closed. If you’re not logging into the system and you skip the week then there’s nothing on the record, and that could potentially affect your case and cause you to have to reapply.”

We got a lot more questions about part-time workers and partial unemployment benefits. Here’s what we found out:

I’m a part-time worker. Am I eligible for the extra $300 per week?

If you are receiving unemployment insurance of any kind, the answer is yes. The additional $300 per week goes to anyone who’s receiving unemployment insurance, regardless of whether it’s traditional UI or pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA), according to Salk.

Salk said: “Anybody who’s eligible for unemployment would get another $300 on top of what their regular rate is. As long as you’re eligible for something, even a dollar, you get that $300.”

Am I eligible for the extended federal benefits?

The general rule is that anyone who lost their job or was furloughed for reasons related to the pandemic is now able to collect weekly unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. So, if you currently qualify for unemployment benefits, you are automatically eligible for the extended benefits under the stimulus package.

What if my benefits ended before this 11-week extension?

If you were receiving PUA or UI benefits (including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits) before the 11-week extension was available but have run out, just submit your weekly certification to kick start your benefits again. You’ll be asked about your “break in claims,” and you must answer questions about whether you returned to work since you last certified, according to the state Department of Labor website.

The only reason you would need to reapply is if your benefit year (the 52-week period starting when you first received benefits) has ended. The best way to do that is to apply online at unemployment.labor.ny.gov

Other Scenarios...

I applied for unemployment benefits but got denied because I don’t make enough. What can I do?

You might be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Anyone who has been turned down for traditional unemployment benefits for making too little is supposed to be automatically assessed by the Department of Labor to see if they’re eligible for PUA, according to Salk.

Salk said: “I’m not sure they’re always doing that. Sometimes things get lost in translation. It’s very bureaucratic.”

So here’s what you should do: Once you get a denial, you have only 30 days to request a hearing with the Department of Labor. Before COVID, claimants could receive a hearing within three to four weeks. But due to the high volume of requests, Salk says it’s been much longer lately.

Salk’s advice: If you get denied, request a hearing. While you’re waiting for that hearing, reach out to an organization that can provide you with some assistance. Here are a few you could contact:

What if my employer reduced my hours significantly during the pandemic? What can I do?

You are only eligible for unemployment if you’ve lost work and are working fewer than 30 hours a week, making $504 or less. Even if your hours have been reduced, if you don’t meet these requirements, you aren’t eligible.

Salk said: “Some employers are really taking advantage of the situation, of people’s desperation.”

Salk does not advise anyone to quit their job in order to claim benefits. This may result in a disqualification.

Does the extra $300 per week in benefits count as income when applying for the city rental assistance programs?

In general, unemployment insurance counts as taxable income in determining eligibility for public assistance. The city rental voucher program (CityFHEPS) uses the same income standards as public assistance, according to Michael Grinthal, the supervising attorney of the Housing Rights Team at TakeRoot Justice.

Grinthal said: “So unless there is an express exception written into the federal law, or unless the city promulgates new regs, we would expect that the $300 counts as income.”

The extra $300 per week will not count as income when applying for health insurance or SNAP benefits — but it has not yet been determined whether it will count towards cash or rental assistance, according to Quinn.

Finally, because we know it’s complicated, here’s a quick recap of the unemployment benefits available right now to New Yorkers:

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

  • Who is this for? Self-employed workers, freelancers and gig workers who traditionally do not qualify for regular unemployment insurance.
  • How many weeks? A total of 57 weeks through March 14, 2021. This program includes what’s called a “phase-out period,” meaning If you don’t use your 57 weeks by March 14, 2021, you can now continue receiving benefits until you have used all 57 weeks or reach the week ending April 11, 2021, whichever comes first.
  • Note: If you apply after Jan. 31, 2021, you will need to provide self-employment documentation within 21 days of submitting your application.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)

  • Who is this for? This is only available for people who have exhausted their 26 weeks of traditional Unemployment Insurance (UI).
  • How many weeks? A total of 24 weeks through March 14, 2021. Again, you will be able to receive benefits until you have used all 24 weeks or reach the week ending April 11, 2021, whichever comes first.

Extended Benefits Program (EB)

  • Who is this for? This is for New Yorkers who collect traditional Unemployment Insurance (UI), which does not include people who collect PUA. To get EB, you must first exhaust all 26 weeks of traditional UI and all 24 weeks of PEUC and continue to be unemployed. These benefits kick in automatically after these other weeks have been exhausted.
  • How many weeks? 20 weeks of additional benefits.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)

  • Who is this for? Anyone receiving any unemployment benefits will receive an additional $300 on top of their weekly payments.
  • How many weeks? 11 weeks or until the week ending March 14, 2021.

What we’re reading

Hundreds of workers are on strike at The Bronx’s Hunts Point Produce Market, THE CITY reported.

THE CITY showed how illness and pandemic stress is hurting MTA workers and subway service.

THE CITY wrote about last month’s jump in jobless claims and how that plays into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bleak city budget. Meanwhile, the first monthly job loss in the city since April bodes for a “second-wave” economic slowdown.

A lot of essential workers are eligible for the vaccine in New York City — including teachers, transit workers, grocery workers and police officers — but the process of getting an appointment is tricky, and the city is running out of doses, The New York Times reported.

The 19th wrote about the particular challenges to getting the vaccine to women who are essential workers due to barriers like paid time off, childcare and transportation.

The New York Times reported on concerns that Filipino nurses have about the virus’ second wave after being hit so hard in the spring.

More Questions?

If you have specific questions about working or unemployment in NYC during the pandemic or something else you think we should cover, let us know by emailing opennewsroom@thecity.nyc.

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.

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