Coronavirus News: New York State Labor Dept. suspends unemployment forfeit penalties during pandemic

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Thousands of New Yorkers previously blocked from receiving unemployment insurance now qualify for assistance under a policy change announced Wednesday by the New York State Department of Labor.

Commissioner Roberta Reardon announced the DOL would be suspending forfeit penalties during the duration of the pandemic.

A forfeit penalty is a form of punishment imposed by the DOL when an individual claims unemployment insurance and the state determined they shouldn't have. The penalty blocks those individuals from receiving future unemployment benefits that they are actually entitled to.

Many New Yorkers experiencing forfeit penalties told 7 On Your Side Investigates they were penalized over technicalities and misunderstandings about the law.

Wednesday, Reardon said the state would begin sending those individuals previously denied benefits due to forfeit penalties, the full amount of unemployment insurance they would have been entitled too in addition to the $600 weekly payment made available by the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program.

Reardon indicated the payments should arrive within the next two weeks and would be back-dated to May 13.

"This is an unprecedented crisis and we are all in uncharted waters," Reardon said during a press call. "I will not rest until everyone receives their benefits."

Individuals previously denied benefits responded to the news with enthusiasm.
"Thrilled struggling families will now have access to UI," wrote one individual responding to a tweet by Eyewitness News Reporter Danielle Leigh.

"Can it be our voices were heard?" wrote another.

And still, another wrote, "I can't thank you enough."

Long Island Sen. Monica Martinez had written letters and proposed a bill in April pressuring the state to change its previous policy of denying individuals with forfeit days unemployment insurance during the pandemic.

"I am thrilled the Governor and the Commissioner of the Department of Labor have heard the pleas of many residents who have been struggling for months who were bound by forfeit day limitations. We will finally be seeing some relief in the coming weeks," wrote Sen. Martinez, D-Brentwood, in a statement responding to DOL's announcement. "I thank my colleagues for their support rallying behind my legislation, endless emails, and calls for help that brought us to today's announcement. We really are NY strong."

Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal, D/WF-Manhattan, also pressed for legislation that would suspend forfeit penalties during the pandemic.

She thanked the DOL for listening to calls for a policy change.

"I have heard from too many desperate New Yorkers who were denied unemployment insurance as a result of forfeit penalties," Rosenthal wrote. "New York State should not withhold any portion of unemployment benefits based on issues with a past unemployment claim. This lifesaving relief will ensure that New Yorkers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own will be able to pay rent and put food on the table to feed their families."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, the state DOL has paid more than $7.4 billion in unemployment benefits, according to the department.


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