Dec 31, 2020
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Millions of unemployed Americans can breathe a sigh of relief following the Department of Labor’s (DOL) release of official guidance on key unemployment provisions in the new stimulus bill. The guidance, issued by the department’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) on Wednesday evening, confirms that there will be no lapse in benefit weeks for individuals in two unemployment programs and that the extra $300 federal unemployment supplement will be paid for the full 11 weeks that were provisioned in the stimulus agreement passed by Congress.
Guidance Confirms 11 Weeks of Extra $300 Unemployment Benefit
The federal unemployment supplement, officially known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC), was created after Congress passed the Cares Act in March. The program provided an additional $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits, but expired on July 31, 2020. The new stimulus bill called for the program to restart at half the weekly rate and run for 11 weeks; however, there was concern that because President Trump delayed signing the stimulus agreement, FPUC would only be extended for 10 weeks, essentially costing unemployed workers $300.
FPUC “is reauthorized and modified to provide $300 per week to supplement benefits for weeks of unemployment beginning after December 26, 2020, and ending on or before March 14, 2021,” the DOL said in a news release. The ETA released more specific guidance in the form of Unemployment Insurance Program Letter (UIPL) 09-21. In the UIPL, the ETA specified that in states where the week of unemployment ends on a Saturday, “the first week for which FPUC must be paid at the $300 amount is the week ending January 2, 2021.” Similarly, for states where the week of unemployment ends on a Sunday, “the first week for which FPUC must be paid at the $300 amount is week ending January 3, 2021.”
Guidance Mitigates Impact Of Trump’s Delay In Signing Stimulus Package
Because Trump delayed signing the stimulus bill, there was worry that millions would lose out on a week’s worth of benefits. The extra $300 “only applies to benefit weeks after enactment,’’ Michele Evermore, a policy expert at the National Employment Law Project, had explained. “If Trump doesn’t sign by midnight [Saturday], then the $300 will only apply to 10 weeks of benefits” at most, she told me several days ago.
Luckily, experts, including Evermore, later identified a workaround that permitted the ETA to interpret the language in the new stimulus bill in a more favorable way. This revised interpretation allowed the extra $300 payment to be disbursed for the full 11 weeks. Essentially, the ETA read the new stimulus agreement as an amendment that renewed existing unemployment program agreements with states as opposed to creating new ones. “If Labor is able to renew old agreements with a new end date, it would have no effect on this week of benefits,” Evermore noted, referring to the week of December 27.
Evermore had cautioned that this interpretation needed to be vetted and approved by the ETA. In its guidance letter, the ETA adopted this position. “The Department interprets the Agreement to incorporate amendments to the CARES Act made by the Continued Assistance Act,” it wrote in UIPL 09-21. “The Department does not view having a new agreement or addendums as necessary in order to implement the statutory changes because amendments are incorporated by reference.”
“Millions of jobless workers will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they will not lose a week’s worth of income,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said in a statement. “Now, Donald Trump’s needless delay in signing the relief bill still means unnecessary administrative headaches and late payments, but workers will not lose income.”
Extra $300 Will Be Effective After Program Starts December 26
The ETA’s guidance means that the extra $300 unemployment benefit program will restart on December 26 and first apply to the unemployment week that ends on January 2 or January 3, 2021, depending on the state. While this is when the program officially starts, it may not be when individuals see the extra funds in their accounts. The ETA released a table summarizing key dates for FPUC as well as other unemployment programs.
Because the ETA just released official guidance, it will take states several weeks to reprogram their computer systems. Therefore, while individuals will be eligible for the $300 benefit for the unemployment week ending January 2 or 3, they may not receive payment for that week until later depending on how quickly their state can finish updating its unemployment program. That may be tough for many Americans. “We are talking about people who have been getting by on less than poverty level benefits for months, so to have to go a couple of weeks with no income, until a lump sum comes in, is tough,” Evermore said.
The language in the administration’s unemployment letter “will not change as further guidance is promulgated,” Evermore told me. The ETA’s confirmation should provide more certainty and 11 weeks worth of $300 payments to millions of unemployed Americans struggling due to the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.