Personal Finance

Extra unemployment benefits won’t be available to some workers for weeks

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Key Points
  • The $900 billion Covid relief law extends unemployment benefits in two programs (PUA and PEUC) by up to 15 weeks.
  • States like Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas don't plan to issue those funds for a few weeks. In some cases, benefits may not arrive until the end of January or later.
  • Many people affected by the delay will have gone at least a month without income support by the time aid arrives.
Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As states begin issuing extra unemployment benefits offered by a recent Covid relief measure, many workers will be left waiting a while for aid to arrive.

Some, such as those residing in Virginia and Oklahoma, may not get a deposit until the end of January.

Many of them will have gone at least a month without any income support. They'd be eligible for back pay to Jan. 2, however.

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States must tweak their systems to account for new rules, an exercise that's proving harder for some to do quickly, especially for certain groups of workers.

A long lag seems to apply most to one subset of people: those who exhausted their entitlement to aid through two federal programs before the end of December.

In general, such workers would have tapped jobless benefits in the early days of the pandemic and gotten funds for a maximum 39 weeks.

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The programs include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for self-employed, gig and other workers who don't qualify for state benefits, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, for those who deplete their standard allotment of state aid.

The programs, created by the CARES Act, lapsed the day after Christmas. The new $900 billion relief law extended them to mid-March (and into April for some people).

Virginia, Oklahoma

Virginia officials plan to re-start aid on Jan. 29 for people who'd exhausted these benefits, according to an update posted Wednesday on the state Employment Commission website.

Meanwhile, the state began disbursing funds last week to workers who hadn't yet run out of their initial allotment of PEUC, and will do so Thursday for those who hadn't maxed out PUA benefits.

Oklahoma is also issuing funds in phases. People who'd maxed out their benefits will be among the last to receive fresh assistance, likely around Jan. 24, according to the state's Employment Security Commission. The state also aims to start paying a $300 federal supplement to benefits on that date.

By Friday, the state had already issued benefits to about 35,000 people who hadn't maxed out, the Commission said.

"We identified these claim types as ones that could be paid out with the guidance we have on hand and did not want to hold these benefits back to wait on other updates needed," Shelley Zumwalt, the agency's executive director, said.

Texas

In Texas, there are roughly 68,000 people who exhausted benefits between October and December, according to Cisco Gamez, a spokesman for the state Workforce Commission, which is also issuing benefits in phases.

Such workers require additional attention since some will have returned to work and may not be unemployed, he said.

"We hope to have these claims updated in the coming weeks," Gamez said. "And this is really a major priority, to get those individuals transitioned over that are eligible."

Meanwhile, the agency has already modified more than 1.1 million current active benefit claims so workers can start receiving extended benefits.

$0 balance

Delays and tech quirks are creating a confusing scenario for some workers. Many have reported seeing a $0 entitlement in their online benefit portals despite being eligible for another 11 weeks of unemployment aid.

"If you exhausted your benefits and have a $0 balance, the department is waiting for guidelines and funding from U.S. Department of Labor, and there is nothing more for you to do at this time," according to guidance on the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions website. "The department will provide further information on next steps as soon as it is available."

The U.S. Labor Department has issued all necessary guidance to states on implementing major provisions in the Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers Act, according to an agency spokesperson, who spoke on condition of background. The last one was posted on Friday.

"All of these programs require some computer programming on our end and require us to go through a lot of guidance documents from the U.S. Department of Labor," Amy Cubbage, general counsel for the Kentucky governor's office, said during a press briefing on Friday.

"Once we get all of that guidance and analyze [it], we can get the computer programming done and process those benefits and get it out to people who we know are hurting," she said.