Unemployment benefits face delays for millions even with COVID-19 relief package
Although Congress signed a COVID-19 stimulus agreement late Sunday to provide much-needed financial relief to millions of unemployed Americans, some could lose their unemployment benefits as aid can take weeks to reach them due to outdated government systems, experts say .
The delay could affect 12 million Americans who would lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas if Congress didn't pass new laws. The House and Senate are expected to debate and vote on the package on Monday.
"We went too far," said Elizabeth Pancotti, policy advisor at Employ America. "We would have needed a deal before Thanksgiving so the benefits wouldn't expire."
"It's a Big Scary Mess": 12 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits after Christmas if Congress doesn't act
How long it will take?
For those whose benefits would expire on December 26, the regular benefits and the additional $ 300 surcharge could be delayed for a minimum of three weeks or, in some states, a maximum of six to eight weeks, Pancotti estimates.
"People will expect the additional $ 300 to come in the first week of the year, but that won't happen," she says.
Why? According to Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, this was due to difficulty programming new benefits into the computer system during the vacation.
Long-standing neglect of government governance systems has resulted in government programs lacking the resources and technology needed to add programs right away, adds Evermore, who expects it will take at least two to three weeks to complete States in operation with the new system are helping.
"We're only a week off. Perhaps a handful of states could work a miracle knowing this was going to be in the pipeline," says Evermore. "But they won't be able to activate the system until it's official."
What are the two programs?
In March, the CARES Act created two programs to keep the unemployed alive after the coronavirus pandemic hit the global economy, creating a historic wave of unemployment. The two programs should end on December 26th.
The first was the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers help to the self-employed, temporary workers, and gig workers. It also included a weekly unemployment allowance of $ 600 until the end of July.
Many unemployed Americans have already used up their state unemployment benefits, which typically expire after six months. Now they have moved on to the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which offers an additional 13 weeks of benefits over and above the typical 26 weeks that states give to unemployed workers.
Only 2.9 million of those who run out of PEUC will be able to receive extended benefits in 2021, which will last an additional 13 to 20 weeks. However, states must pay half the cost when their trust funds are used up. A think tank, according to The Century Foundation.
According to Pancotti, it could take three to four weeks for those currently on advanced benefits to receive the additional $ 300.
States are waiting for leadership
With Congress approving an extension of the programs, states will have to wait for the Department of Labor to issue guidelines before sending out payments that could prove difficult during the vacation.
It could be a few weeks before states resume weekly unemployment benefits, unemployment experts say, a problem that emerged in the spring when it took many states more than a month to roll out the additional weekly benefit of $ 600 in the spring, which ended late July.
States also saw weeks of delays in August when President Donald Trump extended the bonus for most workers to $ 300 per week for about six weeks.
The benefits are restored
For unemployed Americans, this means they may have to wait part of January to access benefits that were discontinued in late December. Benefits are usually restored from the Effective Date, so there shouldn't be a gap in a person's eligibility, just a gap in when they're paid, Evermore said.
If the savings run low, American families are at high risk of food insecurity and loss of their homes, and many may not be able to pay for health care during the pandemic, experts warn.
"My biggest concern is that some struggling Americans may panic if they run out of unemployment checks and do something drastic like sell their car," says Evermore. "I want you to know you're still getting your checks, it can only be a few weeks."
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: COVID-19 Aid Treaties: Americans Still Face Unemployment Benefits
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