Lawmakers in the state Senate on Monday unanimously approved a measure meant to hasten the notification process for unemployment benefits in New York after a sharp rise in joblessness over the last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal would require the state Department of Labor to provide initial determinations for unemployment benefits to the person seeking them within 30 days of the necessary documentation being furnished. If a determination cannot be issued within that time, state officials must notify the claimant of the new time frame for when a determination can be issued.
The bill is meant to address the significant wait times people experienced when trying to seek unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The subsequent closure of businesses, schools and public gathering spaces led to the shedding of 2 million jobs in New York alone, and the system was flooded with initial unemployment claims.
The long wait times led to a backlog of unemployment cases, which state officials sought to alleviate by expanding the state's call center as well as bandwidth for its unemployment website. At the same time, the Department of Labor has sought to streamline the verification process for claims by hiring an outside company to aid with certification.
Even as COVID cases have rapidly declined amid the vaccination drive over the last six months, unemployment in New York remains above 8%, higher than the national average.
“Unfortunately, even now, thousands of applicants are having challenges getting their unemployment approved and paid in a timely manner," said Sen. Shelley Mayer, the Democratic lawmaker sponsoring the bill in her chamber. "COVID has made clear that our system needs clear deadlines so that those desperate for unemployment relief receive timely decisions of their approval or disapproval for benefits. This bill makes that important change by requiring the Department of Labor to provide notice within 30 days of receipt of needed documents whether an applicant is approved or disapproved, except in exigent circumstances.”
The state Assembly could give final passage to the bill later this week before it hits Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk for his consideration.