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New York farmers call for unemployment debt relief


New York should write off unemployment debt for businesses that incur the additional cost of shutting down the economy due to the COVID pandemic starting in the spring of 2020, the New York Farm Bureau said Tuesday.

The organization unveiled its goals in the 2023 legislative session in Albany, with the ongoing controversy surrounding unemployment debt for businesses in New York at the top of the list.

Some of the proposals the agriculture industry is rolling out this year include making it easier for farmers to sell farm-produced beverages like beer and cider directly to consumers, and expanding support for New York-grown products.

But labor costs have been a major concern for New York farmers as the industry continues to grapple with the cost of doing business. Unemployment debt concerns have been raised by business groups as a key issue across the state.

“This is unforgivable. New York has to pay its own debts,” said Farm Bureau President David Fisher. “The legislature appears to be very interested in making this happen and we will continue to prioritize it.”

New York City has piled up billions of dollars in unemployment debt to the federal government as the COVID pandemic and subsequent closures of public places and businesses have sent unemployment skyrocketing.

As a result, businesses received what amounted to a tax increase to help pay off interest and debt taken on almost three years ago. New York has one of the highest unemployment debt obligations of any state in the country, amounting to billions of dollars it must pay back to the federal government.

Small business organizations have been calling on state legislators and the governor for some help over the past few years. At the end of the year, the debt was still about $7 billion.

Farms in New York have also raised concerns about additional labor costs, including an increase in the minimum wage in counties north of Westchester to $14.20 late last year. Overtime costs for agricultural workers have also been on the rise for the decade, with the threshold at which overtime begins to be lowered to 40 hours per week.

Gov. Kathy Hochul this year proposed tying the minimum wage increase to inflation, though the plan would include a cap if spending gets too high.

According to the Farm Bureau, inflation has made doing business more expensive.

“Let’s put these annual revenue increases on hold and let the business community decide for themselves,” Fischer said. “Now is not the time to make matters worse.”

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