Over half of the states in the US have opted out of federal unemployment benefits early, citing the programs as potentially fueling the current labor shortage.
But that doesn’t seem to quite be the case. A Friday note from JPMorgan researchers Peter B McCrory and Jesse Edgerton looks at the impact on unemployment claims and spending following states officially opting out of their benefits.
They find that there’s “little sign of any differential improvement in unemployment claims or in several spending and activity measures in these states.” There’s perhaps a little jolt in spending on restaurants – which could be chalked up to workers returning to staff up eateries – but even that estimation might still be closer to no effect.
A previous note from JPMorgan said the decision to cut off unemployment benefits ahead of their scheduled expiration in September was “tied to politics, not economics.”
The role that unemployment benefits ending has played in getting more people to work is murky. For instance, The Wall Street Journal reported in late June that the number of UI recipients was falling in states that opted out early, but Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported that May saw strong job growth while enhanced benefits were still in place. June also saw major payroll additions, but the unemployment rate actually went up that month. All in all, the broader impact on the labor situation is still a bit of a question mark.
On the other side of the equation are the 4 million Americans who will see some or all of their benefits cut off early. Two federal programs extended who’s eligible for unemployment benefits – notably bringing gig workers into the fold – and extended how many weeks workers were eligible to receive benefits. In many states, those programs are winding down completely this summer, leaving workers without any UI income. Workers have previously told Insider that the loss of those benefits will result in them losing their homes, or exposing themselves to risky work environments.
But some jobless Americans have struck back against benefits from being ended by filing lawsuits in several states. They’re already seeing some early wins, with judges deciding that benefits should be temporarily reinstated in Indiana and Maryland while the lawsuits proceed.
“I think it certainly has the potential to start more cases,” Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and jobless-policy expert at the left-leaning Century Foundation, previously told Insider. “The legal argument made in Indiana was based on a set of components that were not unique to Indiana law.”
Jobless workers in Ohio are the latest group to push back against Republican governors cutting off their federal benefits early – in court.
Federal benefits in the state wound down on June 26, months ahead of their scheduled expiration in September. Now, a new lawsuit representing three Ohio workers claims that the state is obligated to continue paying up.
The suit follows similar ones filed in Indiana and Maryland, both of which won temporary victories. In Indiana, firms argued that a similar law mandates the state procure all unemployment compensation conferred upon it, including compensation from amendments like those in the CARES Act. In other words, Republican governors might be trying to cancel extra unemployment from Biden’s stimulus, but it’s illegal.
The Ohio suit hinges on a specific part of state law that deals with the state’s responsibility to cooperate with the federal government on unemployment insurance – and whether it should “secure to this state and its citizens all advantages available.”
Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann is now with DannLaw, one of the two firms representing plaintiffs in the case. He told Insider he believes the amendments to federal unemployment written into pandemic-era laws “are exactly the type of thing that it was the intention of the legislature that the governor is required – has a clear, legal duty – to accept and pass on to the folks that were represented.”
“I think it certainly has the potential to start more cases,” Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and jobless policy expert at the left-leaning Century Foundation, said. “The legal argument made in Indiana was based on a set of components that were not unique to Indiana law.”
At least 400,000 jobless workers in Ohio are impacted by the additional $300 ending, according to an estimate from Stettner.
The three plaintiffs in the case say they won’t be able to pay their basic living expenses if all federal benefits are cut off early, including rent, food, and medications for pets and service animals.
But in Indiana, where a preliminary injunction was granted to temporarily halt the end of benefits, jobless workers may still face difficulty getting their money. The state’s Department of Workforce Development claims it can’t restore the benefits, HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney reported. It’s a situation that Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told Insider he’s keeping a close eye on.
But in Ohio, “it would be real easy to get it restarted and, frankly, if they don’t, then we’ll look at bringing some sort of a damage action against the state to recover what they should have gotten,” Dann said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said he’s planning to appeal the court’s 10-day injunction ordering the state to continue dispensing federal jobless benefits.
“Why wouldn’t a state that cares about the people that live in it, and who has a statutory obligation to pass on benefits that are available under federal law, why wouldn’t they do it?” Dann said.
Millions of Americans applied for unemployment benefits during the pandemic and either didn’t get them or had to wait for months, according to a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek. Half of applicants either got rejected or didn’t get them, the report said, and the wait was deadly for some.
One person profiled, Ralph Wyncoop, was an Uber driver in Las Vegas who was rejected from regular unemployment. He applied to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, a federal program that expanded unemployment insurance eligibility to gig workers, which opened in May 2020. Wyncoop was eligible for $455 a week, but he didn’t receive the money right away and ended up joining a lawsuit.
Eventually, his PUA application was rejected in July; Leah Jones, one of the lawyers working with him, told Businessweek that he was told he needed to show a utility bill, but his landlord had paid that expense.
Relief didn’t come for Wyncoop until the day before Christmas, when benefits finally arrived. In the interim, he had a heart attack over the summer, and was evicted in October. Technically, a national eviction moratorium is still in place through the end of July 2021, but Businessweek reports that he slept in his car following his eviction. On March 17, according to the report, Wyncoop was found dead in a motel.
Wyncoop was one of millions who found themselves at the mercy of a patchwork unemployment system. The report found that only half of the 64.3 million Americans who applied for benefits from March 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, were either turned down, or never received money.
Many Americans found themselves staring down ailing state unemployment systems as the pandemic ravaged the economy. Insider’s Nick Lichtenberg and Allana Akhtar reported in September 2020 that at least 35 states had struggled to get benefits out to workers, as state-run systems were overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of claims.
Some senators have seized on these state-system failures to call for permanent reforms to the UI system, with Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Michael Bennet of Colorado introducing a plan that would beef up benefits and modernize the system’s infrastructure. Such legislation has not yet passed in Congress.
Even as some jobless workers struggled to access any aid, over half of the states in the US have opted to cut off enhanced federal benefits early. That decision – which governors have said is meant to compel workers back into the workforce amidst labor market tightness – will impact an estimated 4 million Americans. For many of those who are on programs like PUA, which made gig workers like Wyncoop eligible for aid, benefits will end completely.
There may be some relief for those workers getting cut off, though: A judge in Indiana recently granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by cut off workers against the state. That decision may preserve benefits for thousands of jobless Hoosiers.
For nearly 340,000 workers on Saturday, a steady flow of federal assistance will abruptly end.
Mississippi, Missouri, Alaska, and Iowa are the first four Republican-led states to scrap their federal unemployment insurance programs. They include the $300 federal supplement to unemployment checks, along with a pair of federal programs that expanded government assistance to gig-workers, freelancers, and the long-term unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
No extra federal assistance will be going out the door in those states after this weekend. That means the level of wage replacement with regular unemployment aid will not amount to half of workers’ past income, per data from Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and jobless policy expert at the left-leaning Century Foundation.
Some 22 million US jobs were lost last year because of the pandemic, many of them low-wage positions.
Twenty-five GOP-led states are pulling the plug on unemployment insurance programs over the summer, imperiling aid for nearly four million people, according to Stettner. Republican governors argue that the federal aid is keeping people from re-entering the workforce, slowing the economic recovery.
“It has become clear to me that we cannot have a full economic recovery until we get the thousands of available jobs in our state filled,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said last month.
The unemployment aid was extended until early September under President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief law enacted three months ago. But many employers and Republicans stepped up their complaints about worker shortages, particularly in the leisure and hospitality sector, though those sectors added jobs in the past two months.
Biden appears to have demonstrated some sensitivity to the criticisms. The president said last week that it “makes sense” for federal unemployment aid to expire on Labor Day. Then White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Republican governors have “every right” to cancel the administration’s jobless aid programs.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, along with some economic experts, argue that the government has a legal obligation to step in and distribute aid to at least gig workers through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. But the Labor Department – which administers the program – has concluded it is unable to do much about it.
Some Democrats in Congress have been fiercely critical of the GOP moves.
“No one should face financial ruin for living in states run by Republicans,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement last month. He told Politico recently he was eyeing a new bill to address the situation, though such a plan faces an uphill climb in the evenly-divided Senate.
Chuck Crusan was laid off about a month before his 60th birthday in April 2021. A veteran, Crusan had worked as a warehouse manager in Texas for five years. He was hoping to stay there until he retired.
But instead Crusan joined the ranks of millions of unemployed Americans. His wife, a cancer survivor, is unable to work. He said he was able to get on unemployment benefits with relative ease (something many Americans cannot say), and was receiving the maximum benefit that Texas offers – plus the additional $300 in federal weekly benefits provided by President Joe Biden’s stimulus.
Then Gov. Greg Abbott announced that, effective June 26, the state was withdrawing from all federal unemployment programs.
“It will really throw me and my wife in dire straits,” Crusan told Insider. “I wouldn’t be able to make my bills anymore.”
At least 22 GOP-led states have opted to end their participation in federal unemployment benefits early, setting up millions of workers to lose some or all of their benefits. The governors have cited a so-called labor shortage, especially in light of a weak April jobs report, and returned to a decades-old Republican talking point that social safety net programs like unemployment are a disincentive to work.
But many workers are still actively job searching, and they weren’t making more on benefits than in jobs. Some want the federal government to step in and restore benefits, although that’s increasingly looking like a long shot. A lot of people don’t know what to do, like Cindy Walker.
Walker worked in outside sales for over 20 years and was the most recent hire at her last company. After her company’s PPP loan ran out, she was let go on August 1.
Now 57 years old, she lives outside of St. Louis, and she’s been getting unemployment since. Missouri is another Republican-governed state that moved to cut benefits before September. Her benefits will run out on June 12, along with thousands of other Missourians.
“I was struggling. I’m a single person, and it’s only me that has income coming in, and I’ve been stressing the whole time,” Walker said. “So whenever the $300 extra kicked in, then I was relieved because I thought, well, now I’m not going to be out basically on the street or lose my vehicle or lose my place to live and have utilities shut off.”
Applying to jobs
Both Walker and Crusan said they’ve been actively looking for work, but haven’t secured anything yet.
“I’ve been submitting and submitting resume after resume, trying to get another position. And all I ever get back, I hear from the employers, is either we’ve decided to move on with other candidates, or this employer has decided to not hire at this moment.”
Crusan said he was ready to go to a street corner and tell people, “I don’t want your money. I want a job. I’ve been working since I was 13 years old. And that’s all I know. And I’m good at what I do.”
Walker said Gov. Parson’s decision to “just all of sudden” end the program in Missouri “puts me in a very bad situation.” She said her income will drop to zero unless she gets something else lined up.
“I’ve never worked in the restaurant or the retail industry. So they say they see signs everywhere for hire, which yes they are, but McDonald’s and all these other places … that’s not what I’ve worked in. And even if I went to work there, I still can’t pay my bills. I can’t bring in enough money to even live on. So I don’t know what I’m going to do when this ends on June the 12th.”
Crusan said Texas requires three job searches a week and he’s been doing about that amount every day.
Not making more on unemployment
Walker said she understands what Republican governors are doing in so far as trying to get people back to work that don’t want to rejoin the labor force. She said she thinks people earning more on unemployment “probably do need to go back to work.”
But she said she wished that the governor understood that “we’re not all in the same boat,” and that’s a difference between workers who may be earning more and those whose income took a hit by going on unemployment.
Before the extra $300 in weekly benefits was enacted, Walker said she tried to sign up for health insurance. It would’ve cost her nearly $600 a month; when the additional $300 kicked in, her health insurance costs were also brought down to about $15 monthly.
“I’m going to be back to where I won’t have health insurance again, cause who can pay $600 health insurance when you can’t even pay to have a place to live?”
Crusan also lost his health insurance after his layoff; he said “thank God” his wife was able to complete her cancer treatments before they lost their insurance.
“We’re having to pay for all medications out of pocket now,” he said, adding that his savings are dwindling.
Wanting the government to step in, likely in vain
“I wish that they [the Biden administration] could just jump in and stop what the governors are trying to do to everyone,” Walker said.
Walker, who still has some years to go before she hits retirement, said she feels “stuck.” She said something needs to be done for people around her age who can’t get jobs: “We work all these years for what? To be just thrown out there to the wolves with nothing?”
Ultimately, Walker said she wants to work.
“I’d rather have a job because I feel better when I’m working myself and bringing in income. I’d much rather be working, but give me a chance and give us a chance – of those that are like me – and let us be able to get back to work.”
Around two million people could face delays receiving enhanced unemployment insurance, including a $300 federal benefit, despite Democrats approving a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan ahead of government aid expiring for many people this month.
The estimate comes from a new analysis from Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and unemployment expert at the liberal-leaning Century Foundation.
The delays, per Stettner, could largely hit those enrolled in programs set up in 2020 to provide unemployment relief to freelancers and laid-off workers who depleted regular state jobless payouts: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, respectively.
“We do expect some states to have delays, getting those who ran out of benefits back on and even starting up PUA and PEUC again,” Stettner said in an interview. “You can’t get the $300 without those underlying benefits.”
Still, jobless workers may not have to wait for long to receive critical benefits. Stettner said he believed it would be a two-week setback for most, largely because the new stimulus law didn’t make major changes to the flow of unemployment benefits. That makes it easier to administer for overburdened state labor offices.
“It is a simpler program,” he told Insider. “I do think it will go better than it has and some states are indicating as such – that this will go a little more smoothly, but not without hiccups.”
Stettner cited California, which issued a release saying people would be able to certify weeks – one of the steps to obtain jobless benefits – in April.
Around 18 million Americans are still claiming unemployment insurance a year into a pandemic which decimated vast swaths of the economy. Additional research from Stettner and Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director of Employ America, indicated that one in every four workers relied on unemployment at some point during the crisis.
Delays to obtain jobless insurance have been common during the pandemic, particularly early last year as the calamity exposed the antiquated state of unemployment offices across the US. The crush of people filing for emergency aid caused a massive backlog.
The stimulus law approved by Biden and Democrats renewed a $300 federal unemployment until Labor Day on September 6. That’s also the expiration date for PUA and PEUC.
Some states are indicating they are prepared to pay out benefits as soon as this week. The New York Department of Labor said on March 17 there would be no lapse in aid, though the agency posted a tweet Monday notifying people there could be a 1-2 day delay at most.
The Labor Department expanded unemployment eligibility on Thursday, opening it to workers who didn’t return to work or accept a new position over COVID safety fears.
The new eligibility criteria also extends to school employees who lost work due to closures and people who lost hours or their jobs because of the pandemic.
The move builds on an executive order that President Joe Biden issued in January that widened eligibility for assistance under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which covers those who aren’t eligible for regular unemployment benefits but are unable to work due to the pandemic.
“There have been tons of workers in this pandemic who’ve been denied benefits because they’ve been offered a job that’s actually not safe,” Heidi Shierholz, the director of policy at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, told Insider.
She added: “One of the key things this does is just makes it very clear that if you get offered a job that is not safe because of COVID risks, you can still get PUA. And I just think that that’s super meaningful.”
Benefits are also retroactive for those who were previously ineligible for PUA, which covers January 27, 2020 and onwards. However, workers who filed after December 27, 2020 can only receive retroactive benefits from December 6 on.
“This probably helps because there were people falling through the cracks in state unemployment insurance programs,” University of Chicago economist Bruce Meyer told Insider. “And many states were not doing a good job of determining eligibility for unemployment insurance – and many people were not getting the benefits to which they were entitled.”
Labor Dept. officials told reporters they could not estimate how many people would become newly eligible for jobless assistance. But not every type of worker would benefit from the new guidelines.
“One group who still falls through the cracks are folks who quit their jobs because they were unsafe,” Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director of Employ America, said in an interview. “If you quit your job because you felt unsafe at work, technically you’re not covered by this expansion.”
Millions still unemployed
Thursday’s jobs report showed some slight recovery for unemployment. Weekly jobless claims dropped to 730,000, lower than some economists anticipated. The numbers of Americans with continuing claims – those still filing for unemployment – dropped to 4.4 million.
But millions of Americans remain unemployed with a $300 federal unemployment benefit expiring in mid-March. The official jobless rate stands at 6.3%, though Federal Reserve officials say it is likely near 10% after factoring in certain trends.
President Donald Trump has suggested he may reject the $900 billion coronavirus relief package that Congress approved earlier this week unless lawmakers include $2,000 stimulus payments. He still hasn’t signed it into law and has given few indications of which direction he’ll swing.
The continued delay endangers a broad range of federal assistance programs in the legislation as well. It could prove costly for millions of Americans receiving unemployment benefits since they were supposed to restart December 26.
If Trump doesn’t sign the federal rescue package by the end of Saturday, it would effectively cut a week of $300 federal unemployment benefits for jobless people, according to Michele Evermore, a policy expert at the National Employment Law Project.
However, she cautioned it’s hard to project without federal guidance how the holdup would affect other unemployment programs.
“I’m not entirely sure how this will be interpreted – at the very least, we lose a week of the $300,” Evermore told Insider. “No matter what, if he doesn’t sign, next week it goes down to 10 weeks of an extra $300.”
Experts like Evermore say a two-to-three week gap in unemployment benefits is inevitable since states also need time to recalibrate their computer systems.
States can’t provide benefits for weeks before the relief legislation is actually approved. Depending on when it’s signed, that could put labor agencies on track to restart the payouts during the first week of January. The $300 federal supplement would still end on March 14, setting up only a 10-week extension instead of 11.
Trump’s move also threatens to financially devastate millions of Americans heading into next year. Saturday is the last day that two federal unemployment programs distribute their payments. They are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig workers and freelancers and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation for people who exhausted state benefits.
That pair of programs set up under the CARES Act in March cover 14 million people and expire this month. The president’s calendar has no public events listed for the weekend. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The president maintained his position in a tweet on Saturday morning, saying he wanted to increase stimulus payments and remove unrelated provisions from the large tax-and-spending package.
“I simply want to get out great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork’.”
On Tuesday evening, Trump threatened in a video posted on Twitter to derail the $900 billion coronavirus relief package alongside the government spending bill it was paired with to accelerate their passage. He blasted provisions in the funding legislation such as money for the Kennedy Center, though his budget request had allocated funds for it.
The development stunned lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who had expected the president to sign the legislation given the White House’s public statements on it. Trump had largely delegated relief negotiations to Congressional leaders for months.
The coronavirus relief legislation contained $600 direct payments, $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits, funding for food stamps and rental assistance, and small business aid among other measures. It passed Congress with a strong bipartisan majority on Monday evening, which could potentially pave the way for a veto override.
In a bit of political jockeying, House Democrats on Thursday swiftly attempted to advance a measure to approve $2,000 stimulus checks. But House Republicans immediately blocked it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi assailed the GOP move and vowed to bring up the legislation for another vote on Monday.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, a top Trump ally in Congress, suggested the president was holding firm on his position on Saturday afternoon.
“After spending some time with President @realDonaldTrump today, I am convinced he is more determined than ever to increase stimulus payments to $2000 per person and challenge Section 230 big tech liability protection,” Graham tweeted.
Some residents of the nation’s capital will be eligible for a $1,200 stimulus check, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday.
The one time checks will go to people who already qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program set to expire on Dec. 31.
PUA’s looming expiration is one of the main reasons proponents of stimulus checks have called for their return, particularly since it covers gig workers and others normally not eligible for state-level unemployment programs.
Bowser said around 20,000 D.C. residents will be eligible for the new checks.
Bowser said around 20,000 Washingtonians will be eligible for the direct payments.
Eligibility for the D.C. stimulus checks mirrors that of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is set to expire on Dec. 31.
Also known as PUA, the program is tailored toward people who normally wouldn’t qualify for unemployment insurance at the state level. Those include gig workers, independent contractors, people with a limited work history and self-employed Americans.
To receive the check, a D.C. resident would need to have applied for PUA by Nov. 30.
“This stimulus payment will be made to D.C. residents currently receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” Bowser said during a press conference Monday.
“It has been a while since we talked about this,” she added when noting who would qualify for the PUA program.
Bowser’s move presents a stark contrast between her willingness to act at the local level compared to members of Congress in her city.
A compromise package of under $1 trillion is in the works on Capitol Hill, with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly open to passing it.
Otherwise, McConnell has been adamant that any new relief needs to be limited and not as expensive as the $2.2 trillion CARES Act from back in March.
Direct payments could be back on the table once President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, but the scope of any subsequent stimulus package remains unclear until Congress gets around to the new one in the lame duck session until then.