By MARINA VILLENEUVE
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York could boost weekly benefits for laid-off workers and delay unemployment tax hikes for employers under a bill that passed the Senate this week.
State lawmakers hope to help an economy that’s rebounding but at a slower pace than the nation: New York’s 6.2% unemployment rate in December was more than two points higher than the national rate.
The state Senate unanimously voted Tuesday to pass the legislation sponsored by state Sen. Anna Kaplan, a Democrat of Long Island.
The bill now awaits a vote in the Assembly. The office of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, didn’t immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday.
Taxes on employers fund the nation’s unemployment insurance system, with tax rates depending on how much employers pay workers and how many workers they’ve laid off. Those taxes go up when rising unemployment rates deplete those funds.
Kaplan’s bill would delay those tax increases for two years. New York would then recalculate rates to address the state’s deficit at that point.
New York would also increase maximum weekly unemployment benefits this year and next year. Those benefits didn’t increase as planned because New York’s unemployment trust fund ran a deficit.
“So many of our state’s small businesses barely survived the challenges of the pandemic, and if we allow them to be hit with massive increases in their payroll taxes, many will be forced to close their doors for good,” Kaplan, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business, said in a statement. “At the same time, we can’t forget about workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and who rely on unemployment insurance benefits to make ends meet.”
New York owes over $9 billion in unemployment debt to the federal government — an amount that’s ballooned since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic restrictions.
New York should use federal aid to pay down that debt, according to Zach Sampson, spokesperson for taxpayer advocacy group Upstate United.
He said his group will urge Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers to do so in this year’s budget, which must be put in place by April 1.
“Struggling employers simply can’t afford a massive unemployment insurance tax hit,” Sampson said.