After months of negotiations, Congressional Republicans and Democrats have finally come to an agreement on a new $900 billion pandemic relief package, which includes provisions to extend enhanced unemployment benefits to workers experiencing job loss due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The new stimulus bill extends two CARES Act programs that support the self-employed, freelance, gig workers and long-term unemployed by 11 weeks. These programs were originally scheduled to expire this week. It also provides all jobless workers an additional $300 weekly boost to their state-provided aid, as well as a new $100 boost to people with wage and self-employment income, for 11 weeks through mid-March.
The text of the bill was released Monday afternoon, and Congress is expected to vote on it by evening. Afterward, it will head to President Donald Trump's desk to be signed into law. Lawmakers are also still debating a second stimulus bill that includes liability protections for businesses and funding for states and local governments.
Under the CARES Act, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provides aid to workers who don't traditionally qualify, including the self-employed, freelancers, gig workers, and parents who were forced out of work due to child-care needs, for up to 39 weeks. With the latest stimulus package, these workers, whose benefits were scheduled to end Dec. 26, will continue to be eligible for another 11 weeks, until March 14, 2021.
The bill also adds another 11 weeks of benefits for those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation, for a total of 24 extra weeks of coverage, on top of what each state provides, to people experiencing long-term joblessness.
The bill provides a $300 weekly federal enhancement to a worker's state-provided benefit for 11 weeks through March 14, 2021.
This is half of the $600 weekly enhancement from the CARES Act that expired in July. At the time, lawmakers settled on the $600 figure as a means to help the average jobless worker recoup 100% of their earnings lost during the coronavirus pandemic when the boost was combined with their state-provided UI.
Without any type of federal enhancement, the average jobless worker receives $333 per week in state-provided aid as of April 2020 data; by state, the average benefit ranges from a low of $101 in Oklahoma to $531 in Massachusetts.
A new addition in this bill provides an extra $100 per week in jobless aid for people who have both wage and self-employment income, but whose benefit calculation doesn't take their self-employment earnings into account.
This provision could be crucial to workers who have lost both their W-2 and 1099 income during the pandemic.
The latest enhanced unemployment measures are effective beginning Dec. 27, 2020.
However, it's likely federal payments will be delayed by several weeks due to the difficulties of programming new benefits into computer systems and administering them by state. It took roughly a month before all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia began administering the $600 benefit after it was passed last spring, and recipients received a lump sum of back payments for missed weeks.
All of the latest extensions to pandemic unemployment will last for at least 11 weeks from Dec. 27 through March 14, 2021, at which point no new applications for PUA or PEUC will be accepted. People receiving unemployment insurance under PUA or PEUC on March 14 and haven't exhausted their benefit window may continue to claim aid until April 5, 2021.
Economists have long recommended enhanced jobless aid be tied to economic indicators, such as the unemployment rate, rather than an arbitrary calendar date set by Congress.
President-elect Joe Biden has previously referred to the latest stimulus deal as a "down payment" and expressed plans to push for another round of relief after he takes office on Jan. 20, 2021.
Altogether, 20.6 million Americans were receiving some kind of jobless aid through Nov. 28, 2020.
Some 885,000 people filed for unemployment for the first time the week ending Dec. 12, 2020, an unexpected increase and the highest weekly number since early September. An increase in virus cases across the nation, as well as winter weather that could lead to further business shutdowns, may make jobs recovery worse.