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Legislative Alert: March 20, 2023

New York State AFL-CIO
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President's Message

Workers Need Unemployment Relief Too

Recent reports and articles that highlight the steep unemployment trust fund deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have largely focused on the impact that the deficit has had on business. Because the trust fund deficit is so steep (nearly $8 billion as of December 2022), the federal government requires additional employer contributions on top of their normal unemployment costs to drive the deficit down and pay off interest to the federal government.

What has not been adequately discussed is the fact that workers too, continue to feel pain as a result of this deficit. The maximum unemployment benefit remains frozen at 2019 levels while it should have increased several times since then. In real dollars the current benefit level is $504 per week, but that number would be well over $700 per week had the benefits been allowed to increase according to the schedule in the law. New York’s maximum benefit is low by any cost-of-living standard and is by far the lowest of our surrounding states. It is not adequate for workers to live on in the event they lose employment through no fault of their own.

The size and impact of the unemployment trust fund deficit is unfair to both workers and their employers, any fix should provide relief for both. Raising the state’s maximum benefit to 2023 levels should be a part of any package that relieves the costs for employers on their normal unemployment rates. Any direct state assistance that alleviates employer payments should require employers to pay those funds back over time. This would allow for the short-term relief business is looking for, but also maintain employer responsibility for the cost of the unemployment system.

The state should also review employers that are not paying into the unemployment trust fund that should be. App-based employers who have misclassified workers are still not paying into the trust fund despite court decisions and DOL findings that they should. Requiring those employers to begin payments immediately, including retroactive payments with interest and penalties, will raise much needed revenue and immediately reduce the trust fund deficit. Review of the taxable wage base and formula to calculate employer contributions to the trust fund should also be considered. 

Mario Cilento, President

Upcoming Meeting

Monday, March 20, 2023, 1:00 p.m. 
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will be the guest speaker.