CNY group pushes unemployment program aimed at helping non-traditional workers
Relief is being proposed for thousands of Central New York workers not typically eligible for traditional unemployment insurance. The Workers’ Center of Central New York and numerous advocacy groups across the state have launched a push for what they’re calling the Unemployment Bridge Program to catch those who fall through the cracks. Center director Jessica Maxwell says it’s time for the state to update the system.
"The reality is a lot of the workers who are left out of traditional UI right now are essential workers, who are the backbone of our economy," Maxwell said. "There are people working in agriculture. Over 50 percent of our agriculture workers Upstate are undocumented workers."
But she says the program also aims to help other non-traditional workers including freelancers, the self-employed, and those paid in cash. A worker named Delfina shared her story of losing her job in a greenhouse during the pandemic. She suddenly had no way to support her two children or family members in Guatemala. She was out of work for a year and had nowhere to live. Jessica Maxwell translated.
"I never received unemployment. I never received any relief, only help from community groups," Delfina said. "As immigrants, we are part of the community, and we deserve protections under the unemployment program."
Maxwell says the unemployment bridge is not only an economic benefit, but can also serve as a labor protection.
"People are often afraid to speak out and lose their job because they have nothing the next day. Nothing," Maxwell said. "There's nothing they can apply for, there's no benefit coming. There's no safety net. We talk all the time at the Workers' Center to workers who stay in bad conditions because they don't want to lose their job."
Maxwell says the unemployment bridge would also bring stability to communities. Advocacy groups are calling for Governor Hochul and state lawmakers to set aside $500 million for the program in the upcoming state budget. Assemblymember Pam Hunter has already promised her support. An estimated 750,000 workers across the state would be eligible, including 180,000 self-employed and freelance workers. All would still have to meet similar application requirements.