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States begin payment of new unemployment benefits

Seven states are already issuing extended aid to the jobless known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Benefits

A closed for business sign is seen on the Wonderland Ballroom in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
A closed for business sign is seen on the Wonderland Ballroom in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

States already are pushing out some of the new unemployment benefits authorized by the $2.3 trillion economic recovery package enacted at the end of March, according to the Department of Labor.

A department spokesperson said Friday that seven states are issuing extended benefits, so-called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Benefits, under a provision of the coronavirus aid law that authorized payments to workers who had exhausted the 26 weeks of unemployment available in most states. As of April 8, the spokesperson said, Alabama, Minnesota, New York, Delaware, Illinois, Oklahoma and Utah are paying extended benefits. 

The cost of the extended benefits is fully funded by the federal government, unlike regular unemployment, and states are not permitted to assess any related charge on the employer.

Those workers also qualify for an additional $600 a week through July 31 under a separate provision of the law.

“The Department has delivered half a billion dollars to states to help administer benefits and will be delivering a half a billion dollars more as states need it,” the spokesperson said. “We note that PUA [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] is a new program and states need to put new business processes and computer programming in place to implement it.”

Several states have asked workers not to file for PUA, the new benefits available under another provision of the law, as they work on the administrative changes necessary to handle such claims. PUA makes unemployment benefits available to those staying home to care for children, the self-employed and others not typically covered by unemployment insurance.

On Friday, the department also published its third set of guidance, covering payment of the extended benefits. The department already had made guidance available on both PUA, the most complex of the new provisions, and on the provision of the law that makes the extra $600 available.

The guidance issued on Friday includes a section on program integrity that warns that anyone who quits work “without good cause” to obtain unemployment benefits is committing fraud and could be forced to pay back the benefits and potentially face prosecution.

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