The COVID shutdown left more than a million New Yorkers in line for unemployment benefits, but most New York state employees are in line for pay raises next week.

Union contracts inked prior to the pandemic call for most state workers to see 2 percent across-the-board pay hikes this year. About 65,000 workers represented by the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and about 20,000 correctional officers were set for pay bumps on April 1 and another 30,000 state university employees were set to get them on July 1. Both hikes were temporarily delayed as the state grappled with a roughly $8 billion budget gap, but those postponements expire October 1.

The Cuomo administration, which postponed the raises using a little-known (and untested) portion of state law, has been unusually secretive about the process. Neither the state’s labor relations office nor the Budget Division would share copies of letters notifying state employee unions about the delays when requested under the state Freedom of Information Law.

To be sure, Governor Cuomo hasn’t stated any objection to people getting raises in the midst of an economic crisis. He said in April that he wanted “to buy some time” as he pleaded with the federal government to provide the state with unrestricted cash aid—which could be used to pay for retroactive raises. And the governor was only restricting the across-the-board raises, not automatic pay increases tied to seniority. Almost six months later, it’s increasingly unlikely Congress will deliver the type and level of aid Cuomo is seeking any time soon.

What Cuomo should have been doing was working with the Legislature to adopt a statutory pay freeze for both state and local employees—a tool to help control costs, preserve services, and avoid layoffs that federal courts upheld as recently as May. But unlike state government, school districts and local governments haven’t been able to unilaterally postpone raises, and instead had to continue paying them as scheduled. In some cases, that’s forced them to make layoffs to help pay for raises. A pay freeze would save about $1.9 billion during the first year, including about $359 million for state government itself.

Letting state raises proceed would be especially unseemly given that a cadre of state employees received full pay this spring without reporting to work. Unlike many local governments, state agencies did not furlough any idled employees—even though enhanced unemployment insurance benefits would have made many if not most furloughed employees whole.

State officials haven’t yet released an estimate on how much they paid idled workers, but the Times Union reported in May that 36,178 out of 119,135 employees, or just over 30 percent, were working remotely. State officials have not yet disclosed how many of the remaining 70 percent were reporting to work in-person—or how many didn’t work at all.

Data from local governments indicate the figure could be substantial. An audit by the Erie County Comptroller, for instance, showed the county paid $5.9 million for hours not worked. An analysis by the Syracuse Post-Standard found that the City paid police officers about $227,000 to stay home amid the shutdown—while also paying officers $850,000 in overtime.

Cuomo this month said he is not “accepting” the idea that Congress won’t be sending unrestricted aid. But the governor’s failure to take a basic cost-control step like a pay freeze—that is, to stop letting his and local governments’ costs grow—makes it less likely that he can cajole Washington into cutting the state a check with as many zeros as he thinks it deserves.

About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

Sluggish in September: NY job growth still trails U.S.

New York's employment recovery slowed to a near halt in the crucial month of September, falling further behind the national growth rate in the 18th full month since the pandemic hit in March 2020, according to and federal monthly job reports. On a sea Read More

The Health Department’s response to a FOIL request for nursing home data triggers 2020 déjà vu

Despite Governor Hochul's promise of transparency, the Health Department keeps responding to requests for COVID data with tactics from the Cuomo administration Read More

Hochul’s Emergency Order Imposes Insurer Restrictions Sought by Hospital Group

Buried in Governor Hochul's emergency order on health-care staffing is a temporary bar against insurance companies challenging claims submitted by hospitals–and an influential hospital association is taking credit. Read More

Home Care Agencies Project Widespread Staffing Shortages in the Next Phase of New York’s Vaccine Mandate

Agencies providing home-based care to elderly and disabled New Yorkers face a large-scale loss of employees when the next phase of the state's vaccine mandate takes effect on Oct. 7, according to a newly released industry s Read More

Remembering the scandal that brought down Health Commissioner Howard Zucker

The resignation of Dr. Howard Zucker as state health commissioner marks the end of a term marred by scandal over his role in managing the coronavirus pandemic. The much-debated compelling nursing homes to admit COVID-positive patients, though it origi Read More

As leaves turn, NY’s post-pandemic recovery still has very far to go

Entering the second autumn since the COVID-19 outbreak of March 2020, the pace of New York State's pandemic economic recovery has been abysmal by almost any standard. New York was the national epicenter of the pandemic, and Governor Cuomo's "" business Read More

More NY job gains in August—but employment needs to rise a lot further

New York's jobs report for August looked relatively strong—but only by comparison, that is, with . On a seasonally adjusted basis, New York gained 28,000 private-sector jobs last month—a growth rate of 0.4 percent, according to . This was double th Read More

After 10 weeks, all but five of the Empire Center’s 63 requests for pandemic data remain unfulfilled

Over the 10 days that Hochul has been in office, there has been no further progress on the Empire Center's record requests. Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100

General Inquiries:

Press Inquiries:


The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!