Unemployment benefits endangered for Americans stranded abroad

Justin Samuels, 44, was living in Malaga, Spain, when the Covid pandemic struck. The freelance writer is fighting New York for unemployment benefits.

Justin Samuels

Justin Samuels was living abroad in Malaga, a Spanish port city in the south of the country, along the Costa del Sol, when the chaos of the pandemic began to unfold.

This has led to a long struggle for unemployment benefits – a situation that plagued many Americans overseas in the early days of the health crisis.

A dual citizen, Samuels, 44, moved to the Mediterranean city with his mother more than two years ago. She had a brain tumor and her surgeon recommends a treatment that is not available in the US

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Samuels, a PhD student at the University of Malaga, earned a living as a freelance writer from American concerts. When work dried up in March last year, he applied for unemployment.

But the New York Department of Labor denied his claim. The government is now trying to repay more than $ 5,000 in payments made incorrectly by the state.

I did not come back because I did not want to get sick.

Susanna D.

dual American and Italian citizen living abroad

Samuels and others like him are caught in the link between two competing and confusing forces: a requirement of the state that workers be physically present and able to work in the US to collect unemployment, and a virus that it making it impossible and unsafe to travel.

“All Americans who go overseas do not cease to be Americans,” Samuels said. “I believe the DOL is trying to criminalize us because we are out of the country.”

Deanna Cohen, a spokeswoman for the New York Department of Labor, did not respond to the specific allegation.

“To protect New Yorkers and our unemployment system from fraud, the law requires New Yorkers to be in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands when submitting and certifying benefits,” Cohen said.

The agency must also obtain specific documents from workers to determine if they qualify for benefits, she added. The speed of the payout depends on how fast New Yorkers send that information, she said.

Stranded abroad

Adriana Marian was stuck in Romania when she was fired. She waited until September for benefits but did not repay.

Adriana Marian

By the beginning of April last year, the US about 40,000 Americans repatriated stranded abroad due to pandemic shutdowns and air travel restrictions.

But some citizens were not so happy.

Adriana Marian, 46, an office manager at a medical practice, was fired while visiting Romania for an emergency in the family. She could only return in September.

Brahim O. (34) lost his job as a cafeteria chef while trapped in Morocco, where he was visiting family. (He requested that his full name not be used for privacy reasons.)

In both cases, their state labor agencies – Missouri and Massachusetts, respectively – began paying out unemployment benefits when they returned to the United States. But now they are fighting for repayment, worth thousands of dollars, which would help cover accounts and loans paid in the past. of friends.

Brahim received notice of eviction in October, following a moratorium on eviction ended in Massachusetts. He has been able to stay in his house so far. But Brahim is still not called back to work. He has a hearing on Monday to try to overturn the state’s ruling.

“From April 13 to August when I returned, I had no income,” Brahim said. “This is a very difficult situation.”

In general, several thousand people were likely affected by similar circumstances during the pandemic, said Andrew Stettner, an unemployment expert and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

This is a small fraction of the ten million people who lost their jobs amid the economic massacre of Covid.

But critics argue that their distress underscores the aging nature of the American unemployment system, which emerged in the 1930s when workers could not do their jobs from afar. It is also an unfair reading of rules due to the impact of the pandemic on international travel.

‘Archaic’ view?

States are the ultimate arbitrators or anyone can claim unemployment benefits from overseas.

Most, if not all states, have adopted a similar interpretation of the requirement that a benefit beneficiary be willing and able to work, labor experts said.

It is largely a matter of physical presence – in the eyes of states, someone outside the country is unable to accept offered work immediately, and therefore is not eligible for benefits.

According to government officials, employees must be able to personally sign up in a jurisdiction signed on to an agreement known as the Interstate Benefit Payment Plan. Foreign countries are not signatories.

“Once the plaintiff traveled to Spain, he was, by law, unable to meet reporting requirements, and therefore was not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits,” said Anthony Inguanzo, a New York labor official. wrote a trial on the case of Samuels.

States also typically block foreign IP addresses to certify for unemployment benefits to reduce fraud, Stettner said.

International organized crime rings have indeed stolen billions of dollars in benefits during the pandemic.

According to Harvey Sanders, a labor and labor attorney in New York, the attitude of the states is too rigid and a misinterpretation of the law.

“It goes back to an archaic view of the world of work,” Sanders said, representing the workers trapped in the legal crossfire. “It ignores that so many people do counting and have been doing it for years.”

Americans can also work remotely, Sanders added. Furthermore, even if they were able to return to the US, a return flight would have exceeded their financial capacity beyond their capacity, he said.

The Missouri and Massachusetts labor agencies did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Department of Labor also did not comment.

‘Did not want to get sick’

States are also looking at an important aspect of the Covid crisis, Sanders said: limiting it to movement and travel due to social distance and health guidelines.

Some people had to choose to risk illness to fly back to the US to receive unemployed help, or to drop the funds until the health crisis subsided.

“I did not come back because I did not want to get sick,” said Susanna D., 43. She lives in Monopoli, Italy, a coastal town on the heel of the Italian shoe. She also has asthma. “And it did not occur to me that they would consider that fraud.”

Susanna D. (43) works remotely from Italy. She recently appealed for unemployment benefits in New York.

Susanna D.

Susanna, who asked that her full name not be used for privacy reasons, was co-founder of a nonprofit business in New York that hosts sporting events. As a dual citizen, she has been working remotely from Italy since 2018.

She moderated a Facebook group for more than 200 Americans abroad.

Susanna recently received an appeal for benefits in New York and is awaiting all of her repayment. She did not have to repay more than $ 6,700 in the benefits the state sought to repay.

“Her failure to report is due to a good cause and excusable because she was unable to travel to the United States again due to the closed borders and her own health condition, which made her vulnerable to Covid-19,” Sally said. Woo, a judge of administrative law, certainly in Susanna’s case.

Woo also said that the Interstate Benefit Payment Plan does not include a provision that prevents workers from receiving benefits while outside the US

‘Life and death’

Adriana Marian, living in St. Louis lives, awaiting a job in Missouri. The state canceled a trial in December and did not set a new date.

“I’m so depressed. I just do not know anymore,” Marian said. ‘Because of this damn coronavirus I got stuck [in Romania], and no one does anything. ‘

Samuels has won a trial for his refund, but New York is appealing to reverse the decision.

“Unless, conversely, the predictable impact of the decision can be both profound and far-reaching,” Inguanzo wrote in an appeal document.

People living outside the U.S. for ‘unknown periods of time’ will be eligible for benefits from the U.S., and the Labor Bureau’s ability to ‘act against suspicious claims’ will be significantly affected, he said.

Meanwhile, Samuels needs the money to help take care of his sick mother, he said. Spain offers free health care to citizens, but there are other costs such as transportation to and from appointments.

“It’s essential to the point that it’s a matter of life and death that the money comes in until I get a new job,” Samuels said.

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