Labor: Unemployment won’t lapse despite Trump signing delay

Unemployment benefits included in a new COVID-19 relief package will not lapse this week, as anticipated, despite President Trump’s delay in signing the bill, the Labor Department confirmed Tuesday.

“As states are implementing these new provisions as quickly as possible, the Department does not anticipate that eligible claimants will miss a week of benefits due to the timing of the law’s enactment,” a department spokesman told The Hill.

Two key emergency unemployment programs, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), expired on Saturday, a day before Trump signed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill into law.

Trump delayed signing the bill, which passed in Congress on Dec. 21, complaining that $600 stimulus checks were not large enough.

The delay fed concerns that the 14 million people on the two programs, which expand benefits to the self-employed and gig workers who typically cannot receive benefits and provide additional weeks of federal support after regular state benefits expire, would lose benefits for a week.

Michele Evermore, a top unemployment expert at the National Employment Law Project, identified a legal workaround to keep benefits flowing. Evermore is also a volunteer member of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition review team for the Labor Department but says she was not acting in her capacity as a member of the Biden transition.

The workaround will also ensure that $300 in additional weekly payments to all unemployment benefit recipients will begin on time. Experts worried that a delay would simply cut off one of 11 weeks for the benefit, which has a set expiration date of March 14.

All told, the workaround saved $11 billion of targeted relief and stimulus money from essentially evaporating.

Because unemployment benefits are administered by states, however, it remains unclear if every state will be able to prevent the lapse or delays in paying out the benefit.

For example, the New Jersey Labor Department tweeted that claimants would “continue to receive benefits without a gap or lag” following guidance from the Labor Department. But Iowa’s unemployment insurance agency posted a notice warning that “there will be a gap in payments for these programs of an unknown period of time.”

Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) indicated that delayed payments were still possible.

“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,” he said.

But he praised the Labor Department’s flexibility on the matter.

“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,” he said.

Other, newer benefits in the COVID-19 relief bill, such as a $100 weekly benefit for people who earn incomes from multiple sources including self-employment, would take longer to implement, the department said.

Meanwhile, the House approved a bill to increase stimulus check payments from $600 to $2,000, but the bill’s fate in the Senate remains unclear.

Updated at 12:40 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 direct payments Donald Trump Joe Biden Ron Wyden stimulus checks Unemployment

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