Enhanced jobless aid and stimulus checks should already be hitting the bank accounts of New Yorkers, a boon to the city’s 100,000 plus unemployed hospitality workers and scores of other staffers suffering from reduced hours, lower tips, and the ban on indoor dining. Those benefits, however, are arriving in much smaller amounts than last spring, calling into question the extent to which that aid will be able to stave off further poverty and economic hardship.
New York will start issuing $300 supplemental jobless checks this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on December 29, serving as a modest bonus to bare-bones state benefits that furloughed cooks, servers, and bartenders, have been subsisting on. The U.S. Treasury Department, in turn, tweeted last week that it had begun to mail $600 Economic Impact payments, colloquially known as stimulus checks, to taxpayers.
Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill before Christmas, providing those enhanced pandemic benefits, as well as extending unemployment payments for both regular workers and gig workers — like delivery people and ride share drivers — who might not normally qualify for aid. President Donald Trump’s delay in signing that bill is expected to further delay payouts in states with outdated computer systems, but Cuomo said in a release that New Yorkers shouldn’t experience an interruption in benefits.
The aid, nevertheless, won’t suffice for many. The $300 checks are half the amount of the old Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payouts, which lapsed in late July. Since then, aid recipients have been getting by on state unemployment assistance, which can pay less than the minimum wage when calculated on an hourly basis.
Under the new stimulus, jobless taxpayers will qualify for up to 11 weeks of $300 payouts, or $3,300. That’s just over a third of what workers received under last spring’s CARES package, which paid out $600 per week for four months.
To qualify for the $600 stimulus checks, single-filing taxpayers with no children must earn less than $75,000 per year. Couples earning less than $150,000 should receive $1,200. Those with kids will receive an extra $500 per child. Smaller payouts will go to filers earning above the salary threshold and will phase out completely at $99,000 for single folks or $198,000 for couples.
Undocumented workers, who make up a significant portion of the hospitality industry — and who constitute the bulk of local delivery workers, per the New York Times — will not directly qualify any federal or state aid.
The new round of assistance, however diminished, comes at a time when many are desperate for help. New York City restaurant jobs fell in November for the first time since the spring recovery, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported late last month, losing 445 workers since the previous month. That decline, which is admittedly marginal, should strike observers as particularly concerning as it came before Cuomo announced a ban on indoor dining in the five boroughs. The drop also means that hospitality employment remains at just 59 percent of last February’s levels, with roughly 132,000 fewer workers than during the pre-pandemic highs.
Flattening jobs growth since the early fall — fueled by strict local regulations, cash strapped consumers, and a winter season that makes outdoor dining difficult — means out-of-work restaurant employees will continue to have a hard time finding work.
New York City unemployment only improved to 11.7 percent in November, well above the federal level of 6.7 percent. The stagnant recovery is even more painful in the Bronx, where the jobless rate is 16 percent, and where over a quarter of the population lived in poverty before the pandemic began.
President-elect Joe Biden has plans for another round of stimulus aid, including direct payments, but the feasibility of such assistance will likely depend on the outcome of Georgia’s senate runoff elections on Tuesday, which will determine if Democrats — who generally support larger relief packages — can take control of Congress’s upper chamber. The most recent stimulus package included $25 billion to states for rental assistance, but it’s still unclear how that aid will be disbursed.
Those looking to file initial unemployment claims with New York State’s labor department, or certify any continuing claims, can do so here. Taxpayers with further questions on their stimulus payments, which the IRS should send out no later than January 15, can check that agency’s website.