Around 2 million people could face delays getting $300 federal unemployment benefits

Unemployment filing coronavirus
A person files for jobless benefits.

  • Around 2 million people could see delays receiving unemployment benefits, including a $300 bonus.
  • It could amount to a two-week delay that hits mostly gig workers and long-term unemployed people.
  • Some states like New York say they can pay out enhanced unemployment aid this week.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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.

As the benefit-year ends, unemployed people should expect to continue receiving benefits without applying for them again, Stettner said.

“States should not direct people to reapply, and individuals should not reapply unless they worked since they first got laid-off,” he said.

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More workers just became eligible for unemployment, including those who didn’t return to work over safety concerns

unemployment insurance weekly benefits stimulus checks recession job losses coronavirus pandemic
Carlos Ponce joins a protest in in Miami Springs, Florida, asking senators to continue unemployment benefits past July 31, 2020.

  • On Thursday, the Labor Department expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits.
  • The benefits now include workers who didn’t return to or accept jobs due to COVID safety concerns.
  • But those who quit their jobs over safety concerns aren’t eligible for the expanded benefits.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

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. 

Throughout the pandemic, low-wage workers, women, and workers of color have all been disproportionately impacted by job losses. According to the National Women’s Law Center, women are down over 5.3 million jobs since the pandemic’s onset – and many may have dropped out of the labor force altogether.

Regardless, the updated eligibility will cover a larger swath of workers, while potentially illustrating larger problems with the distribution of unemployment benefits.

“It’s a desperate measure in the face of a failure by state agencies to effectively administer the law,” Meyer said.

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Trump will cost jobless workers a week of $300 federal unemployment benefits if he doesn’t sign the relief bill by the end of Saturday

Trump
  • The president could cost jobless workers a week of $300 federal unemployment benefits if the relief legislation is not signed by midnight Saturday.
  • State agencies can only distribute benefits for weeks the legislation is enacted, experts say.
  • Nearly 14 millions Americans are threatened with the loss of all their unemployment aid this weekend.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

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.

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DC Mayor Muriel Bowser will provide $1,200 stimulus checks to eligible residents as Congress stalls

Muriel Bowser 6
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

  • 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.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A new round of stimulus checks is coming for Washington D.C. residents, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday.

Congress has yet to move on a new round of stimulus spending, and the return of $1,200 checks remains unlikely because of renewed deficit concerns among Republicans.

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.

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