State: Pandemic benefit claims soar

Unemployment claims across the state increased by 1,489% for the week ending May 9 when compared to 2019. The Capital Region saw a 1,394% increase in filings for that week, with Columbia County’s filings up 1,643% and Greene County’s filings up 947%, according to the state Department of Labor.

The state Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it has distributed $7.4 billion in unemployment benefits during the pandemic — more than three-and-a-half times the total benefits paid in 2019.

The department has also approved more than 330,000 New Yorkers for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. The program, which was established through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, is designed for unemployed individuals who do not meet the criteria for traditional unemployment. Those who qualify are eligible for the program are also eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, an additional $600 per week available to those receiving benefits through traditional unemployment and also through the PUA program, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends benefits for an additional 13 weeks for those receiving benefits if the initial 26 weeks have expired.

During the week ending April 25, 23 states reported 3,402,409 individuals claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and 13 states reported 79,538 individuals claiming Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Every state is facing a historic surge in unemployment claims and New York is no different, but we have moved faster and more aggressively than others to get beneficiaries their money, and in just over two months have paid out over three-and-a-half years’ worth of benefits,” state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said. “We know New Yorkers are struggling, and we know they need support now, and we are working day and night to get money into more New Yorkers’ hands faster — including through these emergency measures — and we will continue to provide the support people need to help them weather this unprecedented crisis.”

For the week ending May 9, the state’s unemployment filings increased by 1,489% compared to 2019. In each of the state’s 10 labor market regions, the filings increased by at least 734%.

Columbia and Greene counties are part of the Capital Region labor market, which experienced a 1,394% increase in filings for the week ending May 9 when compared to 2019. Columbia County’s filings were up 1,643% and Greene County’s increased by 947%, according to the state Department of Labor.

“Clearly the unemployment statistics show the impact of COVID-19 on Columbia County’s workforce in terms of comparative data to last year,” Columbia Economic Development Corporation President F. Michael Tucker said. “We must begin to plan the reopening of businesses, while continuing to prioritize public health and safety. It will be a long process but by working together we can begin to rebuild the county’s economy.”

Tucker, along with Columbia County Chamber of Commerce President Jeffrey Hunt, co-chair the Columbia Comeback Committee. Comprised of government officials and members of the local business community, the committee will assist businesses with transitioning into the post-COVID economy.

Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell expects increased testing and tracing, with business participation, will play a large role, and that businesses should prepare to operate at lower capacities as they keep employees and customers six feet apart. Businesses should plan to implement enhanced sanitation practices and utilize protective equipment such as masks and gloves, while ensuring employees do not go to work if ill, and should continue to encourage telework where possible, he said.

“Businesses may want to revisit their business model to evaluate what new revenue sources they may be able to create,” Murell said.

Tourism is one of the industries that has been most impacted, Greene County Economic Development and Planning Director Karl Heck said.

Because Greene County is more of a day-trip or drivable destination, Heck said the tourism industry will bounce back.

“We are optimistic we may attract some people we don’t normally attract,” he said. “At least in the beginning people may take baby steps before they start flying around the world again.”

Heck is hopeful numbers will improve as summer draws near.

“We’re hoping as we get to June things will start to reopen and we’ll see a reversal of some of [those numbers],” he said.

Greene County surveyed around 100 local businesses about how they would operate once the economy reopens. Their responses were sent to the regional economic development council.

All businesses, including essential businesses, must develop a COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan, but these plans are not required to be submitted to a state agency for approval, according to

Industries with the greatest increases in filings included “other” services at 3,177%, educational services at 2,531%, accommodation and food services at 2,525%, health care and social assistance at 1,889% and retail trade at 1,869%, according to the state Department of Labor.

On a federal level, the filings for the week of May 9 actually decreased from the previous week by 195,000, bringing the number of claims to 2,981,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

New York ranked among the top states for highest unemployment rate for the week ending April 25, with a rate of 18.6.

To combat the high volume, applicants follow an alphabetical system when filing for unemployment according to the first letter of their last name.

Letters A-F can file on Mondays, G-N file on Tuesdays, O-Z file on Wednesdays, and if you missed your day to file, you can file Thursday through Saturday.

The Telephone Claim Center has extended its hours to include 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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