Dear Neighbor,

Labor Day usually marks the end of summer. The holiday’s actual intention is to celebrate the American worker. 
 

What a time to be one. Unemployment in the US is historically high. Our most essential workers  — a catchall phrase for first responders and those in retail, food service and health care, among others — have kept the country running, often for low pay. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t gone up in more than a decade. New York City’s higher minimum wage of $15 adds up to a pretax $2,400 per month for a full-time worker. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,100. Unemployment benefits for New Yorkers max out at $2,016 per month, before taxes. 

The numbers hardly feel celebratory. In our effort to uplift you in these waning days of summer, we want to at least be sure American workers have access to help, if they need it. Artist and community activist Marissa Mavrich-Burtch created a guide on Instagram to explain the alphabet soup of unemployment programs: 

PUA – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: This is the program created to give unemployment benefits to those who wouldn’t normally qualify, like the self-employed.

PEUC – Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation: This kicks in after you’ve exhausted your days of regular unemployment. It provides an additional 13 weeks.

EB – Extended Benefits: This is the extension of unemployment benefits that kicks in after PEUC is exhausted. EB provides an additional 20 weeks of unemployment benefits to New Yorkers.

FPUC – Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation: FPUC expired in July. It was the additional $600 boost made possible through the Cares Act.

LWA – Lost Wages Assistance: This was established by President Trump through an executive order. States must apply for LWA individually. Funding, which comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will be $300 per week. States may provide an additional $100 per week, but many governors have said that is not fiscally possible. New York State is working to implement LWA as quickly as possible, and payments will be backdated to August 1. The caveat? States are only guaranteed three weeks of LWA funding from FEMA, at which point it will reassess based on the amount of funding that is left. 

First daze of school. Labor Day also typically signals the reopening of schools in the New York area. Mayor Bill de Blasio this morning announced the first day of in-person learning will be pushed from September 10 to September 21 as part of a deal to appease the teachers’ union. Virtual learning will begin as early as September 16. A city council hearing is scheduled for this Thursday, September 3, at 10 a.m., to discuss the reopening. To testify, register at least 24 hours in advance. 

Got all that? We’ll try to keep you updated. We also have considered adding a second edition of Epicenter-NYC devoted to the reopening of schools, remote learning and how families can help each other through the upcoming school year. If this interests you, drop us a line at hello@epicenter-nyc.com.  

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photo: Peter Stankiewicz

OUT & ABOUT

Staple of samosas: Like many small businesses in New York City, Punjabi Deli is struggling. Normally 24/7, the small Lower East Side deli known for its fresh, hot and inexpensive vegetarian Indian fare closed its doors in March, and didn’t reopen until mid-July. To know Punjabi is to love it. Taxi drivers flock here — pretty much the greatest stamp of approval for a restaurant. Only now there are fewer people in NYC, less business for cabbies and fewer customers for Punjabi. Support it by stopping by 114 E. First Street and grabbing a meal to go, or donating to its GoFundMe.  

Spend a day at the Met: Soak up all the art you’ve been missing over the last five months at the newly reopened Fifth Avenue museum. Check out the ever-so-relevant themes and striking images in “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle,” which debuted over the weekend. Tickets must be reserved in advance, and are “pay as you wish” for New York residents.

Stretch in the street: We’ve loved watching different businesses take advantage of the city’s Open Streets plan. Astoria-based studio Yoga Agora is offering donation-based classes  Monday through Friday on 31st Avenue at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m., and every Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m. Registration is required, and classes are limited to 25 participants.


 
photo: NYC Parks/Daniel Avila

Breaking the bronze ceiling: Until last week, all historical monuments in Central Park depicted men or fictional women characters (think Alice in Wonderland). Volunteer-run nonprofit Monumental Women had enough of that, and selected sculptor Meredith Bergmann to create a statue, titled the “Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument,” featuring activists Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Pack a picnic and honor some of our country’s great women. 

Socially distanced theater: Local theater company Idle Playthings is performing Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” for live audiences. Shows will be compliant with social distancing guidelines, and the location will be announced every Wednesday. The next performances will be on Saturday, September 5, and Sunday, September 6, at 2 p.m. Check website for updates and locations.

Grab a drink and watch the US Open: The annual tennis championship started yesterday and runs through September 13. Close your eyes, listen to the sound of tennis balls hitting the court and pretend, if even for just a few seconds, that everything is normal. You can watch the livestream on the US Open site.  

Sunday bike socials: Every week a group of local cycling enthusiasts has been getting together and riding around different areas of Queens. The cyclists meet every Sunday at the Unisphere at 9 a.m. All are welcome. Follow this Facebook group for updates.
 




GIVE & GET HELP


Give school supplies, get school supplies: South Brooklyn Mutual Aid is hosting a school supply fair. Items needed include backpacks, pens, pencils, sharpeners, notebooks, folders, binders, highlighters, crayons, glue sticks and reusable masks in child and teen sizes. Drop off donations at Roots Cafe, 639 Fifth Avenue, in Brooklyn. The mutual aid group is also seeking volunteers to staff the fair, which will take place this Sunday, September 6, from 12 to 4 p.m. in the St. Michael’s parking lot on 43rd Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. To volunteer, email southbkmutualaid@gmail.com.

Rent relief and financial aid grants for undocumented New Yorkers: Queens Mutual Aid network is accepting applications through September 14, prioritizing those who have not had access to other types of aid throughout the pandemic. The grants can be used toward paying specific bills, paying a landlord or management company directly, or purchasing needed materials. All information is confidential. The application is available in English, Spanish and Bengali.

Artist fellowships available: A.I.R. Gallery has an open call out through October 21 for its fellowship program. Each year the gallery awards six yearlong fellowships, plus space for an exhibit, to artists who identify as women or nonbinary. Learn more about eligibility requirements and apply here

Census update: A few weeks ago, we wrote about how important it is to fill out the census. The current deadline to fill it out, September 30, is nearing. A few quick reminders from us regarding the census:  Everybody matters. Regardless of your citizenship or housing status, you need to be counted by the census, and doing so will not put you at risk. What if you left the city due to coronavirus? It doesn’t matter. Whether you are staying with your parents right now or spending time at a second home, if, in a coronavirus-free world, you planned to be living in New York City in April, that’s the place you should list as your home. Fill out the census now. 


DAY-TRIPPING 


Lloyd Harbor on Long Island

The Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve makes the perfect day trip in these final days of summer. The former estate of Marshall Field III, heir to the department-store empire, and its 1,500 acres of wide, flat, paved trails make it easy to distance from your fellow park goers. There are horses and old buildings, wonderful walking and biking paths. We took the 2-mile hike to the beach, stopping on the steps of the “master’s house” for lunch (there are trash bins there) and dined with an expansive view of the Long Island Sound. Then we hiked down the hill toward the beach and tried to heed signs not to swim. It’s a rocky beach (pack sand shoes if that bothers you), but the ocean floor softens eventually into a squishy, comforting mud. The trail continues in a loop. The paved part was closed on the day we went, but we just backtracked. Stop at the clean restrooms and to fill water bottles at the master’s garage before heading back. It’s $8 for parking. 

If you make a day trip of this, downtown Huntington is a short drive away and has outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants. We stopped at Marty’s Gourmet Seafood and picked up some tuna and char to grill back home. 

LAST WORD  

We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us.


Fearless, Ink and transfer on wood panel, 6″ x 6″


This week, we welcome Sandra Mack-Valencia, a Colombian painter who lives and works in New York. Mack-Valencia grew up listening to fairy tales and urban legends, which translates in the narrative aspect that you will find in her work. She nurtures her art from many sources: found images, book remarks, experiences, movies, fashion, and more. Her personal philosophy is quite simple: Everything one does should be beautiful. It’s not a denial of reality, but an acknowledgment that beauty is still present — and needed in our acts, our thoughts, our ideals and our interactions with the world and with the other.


Team Work, Acrylic, ink and transfer on wood panel, 36″ x 36″

Mack-Valencia’s work has been exhibited in museums such as El Museo del Barrio and the Coney Island Museum in New York, as well as the Museum of Modern Art and the MAJA Museum in Medellín. Her paintings have traveled to Colombia, Amsterdam, Japan and Italy. Her works are in private, public and corporate collections, including the Hotel Monaco, Dunn Development Corporation, the Renaissance Hotel, the Kimpton Hotel in Amsterdam and many others.

Mack-Valencia received her BFA from Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín, and her MFA from Hunter College in New York.

This newsletter was written by Danielle Hyams. Photographs and design by Nitin Mukul and editing by Robin Cabana and Faye Chiu. Did you like it or find it useful? Tell a friend to sign up. Support our vendors, freelancers and efforts by making a donation to our tip jar.