Coronavirus News: New York's jobless call on state to follow California's lead

NEW YORK (WABC) -- More than 4.4 million people nationwide applied for unemployment insurance last week alone, according to the US Department of Labor, as the COVID-19 pandemic has left an unprecedented number of people jobless.

While the New York Department of Labor continues to deny the unemployment insurance applications of unemployed New Yorkers who have outstanding fines or penalties with the agency, California announced plans to offer residents in a similar position some relief.

Labor Secretary Julie Su announced Friday on Facebook that people with unemployment forfeit penalties could receive assistance through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, made available by the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

PUA provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation.

"Continuing with a penalty week is incredibly difficult," Secretary Su acknowledged on Facebook.

Eyewitness News reached out to both the NY Department of Labor and the Office of the Governor to ask if New York State might take similar actions.

Both agencies declined comment.

A spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would defer to his statement on the matter last week.

"We are dedicated to helping New Yorkers weather the economic impacts of this crisis, which is why we've disbursed over $2 billion in unemployment benefits to 1.1 million New Yorkers in just a matter of weeks -- this critical work continues, and we are actively exploring what steps can be taken to address forfeit days during this emergency," Jack Sterne wrote.

The state's lack of action thus far has left many New Yorkers without assistance during the crisis.

Dozens of New Yorkers have reached out to Eyewitness News for help in response to emails from the Department of Labor they shared with us warning, "There is a reasonable possibility there is nothing they will be able to do to waive the forfeit days, and you should be prepared for that."

Senator Monica Martinez, D-Brentwood, has proposed legislation that would authorize the New York Secretary of Labor to suspend forfeit penalties during the state of emergency, and multiple lawmakers have expressed their support for the bill, but the state has yet to take further action.

In a statement reacting to the decision by California's Labor Secretary, Martinez wrote, "New York has always been a state to lead by example and today, New York should follow California by temporarily waiving forfeit days during the state of emergency. I once again urged Commissioner Reardon and Governor Cuomo to assist New Yorkers who are suffering economically during this crisis. For no fault of their own, individuals are currently unemployed and have not been able to collect unemployment insurance benefits. The fear has grown as families cannot provide food and medication for their loved ones. I am not advocating for forgiveness of prior penalties, but to be availed of the same state benefits until they can resume work and restart repayment process."

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