Will President Trump's Executive Order on unemployment benefits help WNY?

Some wonder if the extension of federal benefits will actually happen
Posted at 6:18 PM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 09:48:52-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — Over the weekend, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order extending the federal supplemental unemployment benefit. It had previously been $600/week but expired on July 31.

Under the Executive Order, the new benefit is supposed to be $400/week with states paying 25% ($100/week) of the cost.

The reaction was mixed depending on who you talked with.

"I was so happy. I thought it was the greatest thing on the planet," said William Ayers from North Tonawanda. The laid-off auto salesman immediately called the NYS Department of Labor (NYSDOL) to see when his federal supplemental payments would begin - only to have his hopes dashed.

"We are not able to do anything about this at this time. We will keep you informed," Ayers said he was told by NYSDOL.

Local Musician and President of the Buffalo Musicians Association AFM Local 92, Jim Pace, also thought the President's action was good news for those struggling with unemployment. "For people who get unemployment, if they can get that on top of that, it would be a wonderful thing," said Pace.

AFM Local 92 represents around 600 professional musicians in Buffalo and Niagara Falls who perform at places like Kleinhans Music Hall, with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), and at Shea's.

They have been off the job since March. "Musicians are helpless in this. It is not like we can set up our business to have proper Covid protocols. The venues have to do that," explained Pace.

Pace is also a member of the popular German-American band named "The Frankfurters." Due to the pandemic, the band has lost out on concerts at parks, festivals, and The Erie County Fair. "It has been brutally tough," added Pace.

"The Frankfurters" are performing virtual, live online concerts in hopes that the public will help support them through online tips. The next concert is scheduled for Tuesday August 11 on Facebook.

It is unclear if unemployed professional musicians will benefit from the extended federal benefit, explained Pace, because many musicians have struggled to get unemployment benefits due their status as freelancers.

"They ask you,'Who was your last employer?' And you think, there has been twenty of them. You've got this wedding. You've got this bar. You've got this concert hall. Where do you start? They don't even know how to handle people like us," commented Pace.

Governor Andrew Cuomo reacted to the President's decision with concern saying it will make an already bad financial situation even worse as the State will be responsible for paying one-quarter of the benefit "Your solution is to cost me another $4 billion dollars? Thank you. That is handing the drowning man an anchor," said an annoyed Cuomo during a phone conference.

There is still the question as to whether the President's action was legal and lawsuits are expected. "He doesn't have the legal authority to do it. This is not a dictatorship. It requires the consent of Congress," said Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) when asked previously about the possibility of Trump issuing an Executive Order on unemployment benefits.