8 states approved to offer extra $300 weekly unemployment benefits

Carlos Ponce joins other demonstrators participating in a protest asking Senators to support the continuation of unemployment benefits on July 16, 2020 in Miami Springs, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Workers in a handful of states may soon see a $300-a-week bump in their unemployment benefits.

The federal government has approved funding for eight states — Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah — to offer the $300 supplement to jobless benefits, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is overseeing the assistance.

The aid, part of an executive measure recently signed by President Donald Trump, comes after a $600-a-week federal subsidy enacted by Congress early in the coronavirus recession ended. It had been in place for about four months, from early April to the end of July.

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Many other states haven’t yet committed to offering the $300 federal subsidy. Officials have cited cost, legal and administrative concerns.

South Dakota isn’t applying for the assistance, according to Gov. Kristi Noem.

While some states like Alaska have said they intend to apply for the assistance, it’s unclear which, if any, have applied and are waiting for approval. 

A FEMA spokesperson declined to comment. The agency will continue to update its website as additional states are approved, she said.

Timing unclear

States approved for the “lost wages assistance” could potentially start paying out the $300 federal subsidy as soon as this week.

The funding will be available within one business day once the federal grant is approved and signed by states, according to a recent memo FEMA issued about the program. The seven states had received approval over the weekend, according to FEMA.

Payments are retroactive to the week of Aug. 1, according to FEMA.

Arizona started disbursing the $300 payments to unemployed workers on Monday, according to Brett Bezio, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The state paid a total $75 million to about 250,000 people receiving state unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, he said.

Exact timing is unclear in other states, though. States still must figure out how to administer the funds and adjust their systems accordingly.

New Mexico officials, for example, expect to start paying eligible workers sometime over the next two weeks after making system updates, according to Stacy Johnston, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions.

FEMA estimates states will be able to pay out the assistance by Aug. 29, on average.

But it will likely take much longer, perhaps at least well into September, according to unemployment experts.

For one, the aid isn’t technically unemployment insurance. That means officials must build out an entirely new system that interacts with the current unemployment framework.

Plus, there are restrictions that may prove complex relative to administration. People getting less than $100 a week in unemployment benefits aren’t eligible for the $300 federal subsidy, for example. That could omit around 1 million people or more, by some estimates. 

The supplement comes on top of the weekly assistance states pay.

States paid $308 a week, on average, in June, according to the Labor Department. Some, like Louisiana and Mississippi, paid less than $200.

States approved for funding are only guaranteed to get three weeks’ worth of federal assistance, according to the FEMA memo. Early adopters may get more than other states, experts said.

Any forthcoming congressional agreement on a federal unemployment supplement would supersede the lost wages assistance.  

Congress has yet to reconcile disagreements over the lapsed $600-a-week in aid, however. House Democrats passed a bill in May to extend the $600 subsidy. Senate Republicans countered at the end of July with a $200-a-week plan.

Trump’s directive was originally billed as a $400-a-week boost in benefits, splitting the difference between Democrat and Republican proposals. But it will amount to just $300 a week in many cases. The measure lets states kick in an additional $100 a week if they choose, but many are unlikely to do so due to already-strapped budgets. 

(This story has been updated with information about the benefits available in Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.)

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