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How many weeks of extra $300 unemployment benefits are coming? It's a mystery

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It has been more than a month since millions of Americans learned they'd be receiving an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits, and more than a dozen states have begun issuing the payments.

Yet a key question remains for workers: How long will the funding last?

There's not yet a definitive answer. The total aid unemployed workers get will depend on many factors and may vary from state to state.

Lost Wages Assistance

For one, states must apply for and be approved to offer the Lost Wages Assistance, which was created by an executive measure President Trump signed Aug. 8. The $300 a week comes on top of any unemployment benefits workers are already receiving.

Approved states get an initial block of funding that covers eligible workers for three weeks of unemployment, dating back to the week of Aug. 1. That equates to a total $900 from the federal government.

To date, 47 states have received approval for the first tranche. (Nebraska and Nevada have submitted applications but haven't yet gotten approved. South Dakota isn't applying for the aid.)

To get funding beyond those three weeks, each state must resubmit an application for the aid on a weekly basis for approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is overseeing program funding.

Whether or not some states might therefore access more weeks of assistance than others is somewhat of a mystery. Also unclear is the question of whether FEMA will grant an equal number of weeks to the states that apply.

"That is my big question," said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project and an unemployment expert. "I am not clear on that."

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The answer is consequential for unemployed workers, millions of whom haven't gotten a federal boost to jobless benefits since the end of July, when a prior $600 weekly federal subsidy expired.

33 states

Evidence suggests some states may ultimately get more funding than others.

Just 33 of the approved states had received at least one additional week of assistance as of Tuesday, according to a FEMA spokeswoman. She declined to identify those specific states.

Some states have gotten much more than others so far.

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For example, Missouri and Minnesota have been approved to offer five weeks of funding, according to their respective state unemployment agencies. Washington state received approval for six — or double the amount of some states, according to its Employment Security Department.

FEMA is processing requests for additional weeks of funding as soon as they're received, the spokeswoman said.

'Could end at any time'

The agency is going through the approval process in a piecemeal fashion due to the many moving parts associated with the program.

The agency was authorized to issue up to $44 billion to states, paid out of a federal disaster-relief fund. As of Wednesday, about 70% of the funding — roughly $31 billion — had been obligated to states, according to FEMA. Federal officials initially estimated the funding would cover about five weeks of unemployment.

But that aid will get cut off early if the total value of the disaster-relief fund, which is also tapped during weather-related and other disasters, dips below $25 billion in value. (It currently has roughly $70 billion.) It will also end early if Congress enacts another weekly unemployment supplement. 

It seems state officials aren't sure how long funding will last, either. 

"Funding could end at any time," according to a statement Tuesday from Muriel Bowser, mayor of the District of Columbia.

At the same time, states may get more than the estimated five weeks if fewer people receive the assistance than envisioned, Evermore said.

For example, to be eligible for the payments, workers receiving unemployment benefits must certify they were unemployed due to disruptions caused by Covid-19. If workers answer that question incorrectly or are unaware they need to take this extra step, they may not receive the aid.

To that point, the Louisiana Workforce Commission sent out 22,730 e-mails to individuals who may qualify for the Lost Wages Assistance. Around 14,500 individuals — just 65% — had opened the email as of Sep. 4, according to the Commission.

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