Thursday, June 25, 2009

Help For New York's Unemployed?

Don't Look To Albany!

With New York's unemployment rate at its highest in 16 years, and meager unemployment benefits stagnant for the past decade, pending legislation to raise payment rates could offer relief.

Emphasis on "could," as the only thing keeping more money out of the pockets of the unemployed of the Empire State -- and, quite possibly, the difference between food on the table and going to bed hungry -- is the NYS Senate's obfuscation by way of deriliction of duty.

Who is it that helps those who help themselves?

While our esteemed State Senators continue to get their paychecks, plus $160 per day for "expenses" -- talk about the welfare State; paid for doing absolutely nothing -- the unemployed of New York reap in that big $405 (plus $25 from the feds) per week from the NYS Department of Labor (all of it taxed, by the feds and by the State).

Yet again, government fails the very people who rely on its largess the most. Suffer New York's unemployed!
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From The New York Times:

Amid Senate Chaos, Hope Fades for a Bill to Raise Jobless Benefits

A campaign to increase New York’s unemployment benefits for the first time in a decade has been sidetracked by the political stalemate in Albany — possibly for the rest of the recession.

Despite having the support of the governor, labor leaders and advocates for the unemployed, a bill to raise weekly jobless benefits on July 1 and close the gap in the state’s unemployment trust fund was not addressed by state lawmakers before their regular session ended this week.

The maximum benefit, which had been $405 a week for about 10 years until the federal economic stimulus program temporarily added $25 a week, is significantly smaller than those available to residents of New Jersey and Connecticut. New Jersey’s maximum is $584 a week; Connecticut’s is $576.

Negotiations to make the bill more palatable to employers continued through the weekend, giving its supporters hope that Gov. David A. Paterson would present a compromise that could be enacted. But with party leaders distracted by the battle for control of the State Senate, no progress was made.

The issue was not among those taken up by the Assembly in the final hours of the session that ended early Tuesday, nor was it on the governor’s list of measures to be considered by the Senate in special sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Assembly is not currently scheduled to convene until January.

The lack of action left advocates worried about the fate of the growing ranks of unemployed New Yorkers.

“Meanwhile, the unemployment rate keeps going up, and more and more people are losing their jobs,” said James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a research group that focuses on tax, budget and economic issues. “New York doesn’t look good compared to its neighboring states.”

Last week, the state’s Labor Department said that more New Yorkers were out of work than at any time in more than 30 years. For May, the state’s unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent and the city’s hit 9 percent.

For certain groups, the situation is much bleaker, Mr. Parrott said. He said that the official unemployment data showed that more than 23 percent of all black men in New York City were either unemployed, working less than full time or had become too discouraged about their prospects to look for work.

With many economists forecasting that the national recession will end by late summer, the recovery could begin before additional relief arrived for New York’s unemployed.

The rapid rise in unemployment has also strained the state’s trust fund that provides the weekly benefits. The fund has been borrowing from the federal government to cover a shortfall this year.

To fill the gap, which is projected to grow through next year, the bill before the State Legislature would have increased the amount of a worker’s annual pay that is taxed. Only the first $8,500 is currently taxed to finance the unemployment insurance system, a much lower limit than those in New Jersey and some other states.

The bill called for annual increases in benefits, starting next Wednesday, July 1, that would raise the maximum weekly benefit to $625 and adjust it for inflation each year after that. Along the way, it would have also gradually raised the payroll tax that goes into the unemployment trust fund.

But representatives of employers, led by the Business Council of New York State, have opposed the bill, arguing that the automatic annual increases would make the payroll tax too onerous for some businesses. Last week, the Business Council called the legislation a “job-killing proposal” that would raise the tax by almost 15 percent in a year.

The governor’s office had signaled that it would create a revised bill that both sides could support, but hopes for a compromise before July 1 faded as the chaos in the Senate dragged on.

“It’s a big problem that we’ve fallen so short in terms of not doing this,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for the unemployed. “What was nice about this legislation was it got the benefits out during the recession and it had a plan for paying back the fund over several years. It was a smart approach.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
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