- More than half of states have been approved to offer an extra $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits through a "lost wages assistance" program.
- Unemployed workers won't have to apply separately to get the benefits, states have said.
- However, there is an extra step involved for many workers.
Unemployed workers may soon get a bump of $300 or more in their weekly jobless benefits.
What's more, it seems they won't have to apply for that extra pay — it will come automatically.
Thirty-five states have received federal approval to offer "lost wages assistance," created by an executive measure that President Donald Trump signed Aug. 8.
The program directs federal disaster-relief funds to unemployed workers, following the lapse of a $600-a-week federal supplement to unemployment benefits at the end of July. That prior subsidy had been enacted by the CARES Act in March.
Workers eligible for the aid will get an extra $300 a week on top of their current benefits. Some states, like Kentucky and Montana, are kicking in an extra $100 a week from a federal coronavirus relief fund, for a total $400.
Eligible workers will get the payments automatically and don't need to apply for them separately, according to the latest information from state authorities.
"It seems the intention of the executive order was to make it function similarly to the CARES Act, so people would just get the money," said Eliza Forsythe, a labor economist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
However, to be eligible for the assistance, many workers must take an additional step and self-certify in their online portals that they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by Covid-19.
"This will require a new step for claimants currently receiving regular unemployment benefits, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits," according to a memo published by Washington state's Employment Security Division. "Those who are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will likely not need to certify because they already have."
Workers must have also received at least $100 in unemployment benefits during the weeks covered by the lost-wages program.
Thirty-five states were approved for the assistance as of Friday afternoon.
(They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state and West Virginia.)
States are getting an initial tranche of lost-wages funding covering three weeks, going back to the week ended Aug. 1.
States may pay additional weeks depending on how quickly the earmarked federal funds (up to $44 billion) are depleted.
Officials from the Labor Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is overseeing the program, estimate states will get about five total weeks of funding.
But workers may not see the money show up in their accounts for several weeks, as states build out the infrastructure to administer the payments.
"It started out very slow," said Gary Burtless, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "We're into the third full week of the month, and one state is making benefit payments so far.
"I presume others will start this week." he added. "In some, it'll take longer."
Workers may wish to consult their state labor department website for additional information about the lost-wages program, since each state administers unemployment benefits differently.
"Each state has to make decisions about how to implement it," Forsythe said. "It's hard to give blanket advice to people, because it really depends on each state."