By Susan Bereche, Retreat Attorney
Unemployment & Undocumented Challenges
As a result of the increasingly large number of New Yorkers facing termination of their employment, applications for NYS unemployment benefits are at record numbers. Many applicants have never applied for unemployment benefits before and are experiencing difficulty with the on-line application process. Additionally, there is an increased need for assistance in appealing denials of employment benefits. In response, Touro Law Center and Hofstra Law School are preparing to assemble legal clinics staffed by supervised law students to assist with such applications and appeals. In addition to traditional NYS unemployment benefits, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Unemployment Compensation is available for those who may not qualify for NYS Unemployment Insurance. The Empire Justice Center offers information on its website regarding these additional, temporary benefits at empirejustice.org.
While unemployment benefits are not available for undocumented workers, other benefits are still available. However, many agencies have seen a decrease in the number of hotline calls and inquiries from non-English speaking clients. While many may be essential workers that have not been affected by lay-offs and business closings, many organization worry that non-documented Long Islanders are not seeking assistance or information they desperately need for fear of detection by ICE.
Access to CARES
Additionally, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed to assist small businesses and nonprofits with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic. Employers with 500 employees or less are encouraged to apply for these loans whose terms included forgiveness of the debt where certain requirements were met by the borrower. These loans assist with payroll obligations thereby allowing employers to retain workers despite decrease in revenue. However, many small businesses on Long Island were unable to access any such loan as bank funds were exhausted very quickly. Many small businesses are claiming that the loans were not approved on a “first come, first served” basis but, rather, that priority was given to applications filed by favored customers.
Orders of Protection & Court Processes
With regard to court practices, Suffolk County is leading the charge in remote applications for orders of protection and other emergency applications. According to Michael Williams, Chief Clerk of Suffolk County Family Court, Suffolk County has issued more orders of protection since the start of the shut-down than all five boroughs of NYC combined. The efficiency with which courts in Suffolk County are adapting to virtual proceedings offers hope that certain aspects of the remote practice of law will continue after the pandemic is resolved. Allowing petitioners to appear remotely would be beneficial to domestic violence victims as it would allow them to forego physically confronting their abusers in court; taking time off from work and losing salary or vacation time; and bringing their young children to court where, in the case of the Riverhead courthouse, there is no daycare or children’s center. Even where remote appearance is not reasonable, scheduling “time certain” starts and endings of court conferences will prevent litigants from waiting in court for hours for all parties and counsel to appear. Due to the barrage of cases that are expected when the ban on filing new proceedings is lifted, judges are hoping, also, that the hours of Family Court operations will be extended allowing for a night session to accommodate not only the increased caseload but also the need for parties to return to work without interruption occasioned by litigation.
Although the ban on new proceedings has not been lifted, the NYS Chief Administrative Judge has announced a small expansion of permissible actions in pending cases and Suffolk County judges are working with the Office of Court Administration in the hope that additional virtual proceedings will be authorized. As always, any client in exigent circumstances or having legal questions may contact The Retreat for assistance.