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Jobless benefits for 1.2M New Yorkers are about to expire. What's next

More than 1.2 million New Yorkers got their unemployment insurance through a federal program that is set to expire at year's end, a crucial safety net for people out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two critical unemployment programs that were part of the federal COVID bailout earlier this year are expiring Dec. 26, leaving about 12 million workers in the nation facing an uncertain future as Congress looks to negotiate a deal in the coming days.

And few states have more on the line than New York. The 1.2 million New Yorkers got benefits last month from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, ranking second among states behind only California.

And another 717,000 got their unemployment from Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, according to federal labor statistics.

"Despite this worsening economic picture, many critical support programs that were put in place earlier this year have already expired and the few remaining ones are set to expire just days after Christmas," Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote to Congress leaders Nov. 22.

"This is simply unacceptable and must be rectified."

What's at stake for unemployment benefits

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program provides federally funded unemployment benefits through the state.

The program allows those typically not covered by unemployment, such as freelancers, self-employed workers, and temporary employees, to receive 46 weeks of federal benefits.

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, the program adds another 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits.

The loss of the unemployment aid could add to a bleak winter for many New Yorkers as COVID cases surge amid the threat of more business closures.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, New York has paid more than $56 billion in unemployment benefits to 3.8 million New Yorkers — which represents more than 26 typical years' worth of benefits, the state Department of Labor said.

"Congress moved decisively this spring to address the economic impacts of the pandemic and should once again take action before the calendar year ends to bring badly needed support to millions of struggling Americans," Cuomo said in a statement.

More:New York applied for more $300 a week unemployment benefits. What the federal government said

More:Did you get your $300 unemployment checks yet? Here's the latest NY update

What's next for unemployment

Without unemployment benefits and with savings badly depleted, families will be at high risk for food insecurity and loss of their homes, and many may be unable to pay for health care during the pandemic, Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank based in Manhattan, told USA TODAY.

New York pays up to $504 a week to unemployed residents.

“Unemployment benefits for many families are the last thin line between surviving a difficult situation and facing lasting financial disaster,” Stettner said.

“If you get into a situation where you have no source of income in the middle of a pandemic, you’re going to drain your savings, postpone health care, not put food on the table or possibly lose your home.”

Cuomo urged Congress to also continue federal supplemental benefits of $600 per week to unemployed residents, which expired July 31. The federal government provided a subsequent $300 a week for six weeks, but that also has expired.

The federal government also earlier this year provided a $1,200 check to income-eligible Americans and $500 per child, but that has not been reupped.

The Democratic governor said several other federal unemployment programs that help states and are funded in part by the federal government are also set to expire at year's end:
  • Shared work program: Rather than lay off staff, the program allows a business to reduce all workers' hours, with unemployment benefits replacing some or all of their lost wages. The federal government fully funded states' share of the program, but that funding expires Dec. 31.
  • Local reimbursements: The federal government agreed to reimburse states' half of unemployment benefits for local government, non-profit, and tribal employees. That reimbursement expires at year's end.
  • Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds: States keep a stash of money to cover unemployment costs when cases spike — like now. The federal government let states borrow to replenish their trust funds interest-free. But starting next year, the loans will begin accruing interest, unless Congress acts.

The help from the federal government for states is critical as states grapple with massive budget gaps. New York faces a $13 billion deficit next year, the worst since the recession a decade ago.

Congress appears close to a deal as soon as this week as part of its lame-duck session.

A $908 billion aid package to be introduced Monday would provide roughly $300 in extra federal weekly unemployment benefits, but it would not include another round of $1,200 in direct payments to most Americans, the Associated Press reported.

The plan would also extend a freeze on tenant evictions and reauthorize the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides subsidies to businesses struggling because of the pandemic.

New Yorke has its own “pause” on evictions, but the federal protections would help make the state's law stronger, advocates said.

"We have precious little time left before the end of the year, and the country has some desperate needs," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

"Unemployment remains too high. Laid-off workers need our assistance until the economy fully recovers. Small businesses need another round of support."

More:A federal eviction moratorium expires Dec. 31. What does that mean for NY tenants?

More:'It's a big, scary mess': 12 million Americans to lose jobless aid after Christmas if Congress fails to act

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