As the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads rapidly across the US many are worrying about the economic impact from additional regulations, state/national safety mandates and business reopening delays. But even of more concern to millions of jobless or under-employed Americans, still recovering from the pandemic induced slow down, are the end of the federally funded enhanced unemployment programs in early September.
The most impactful programs ending are the additional $300 weekly payment (FPUC) for jobless Americans eligible for benefits, as well as payments under the PUA program for those workers who previously did not qualify for state unemployment benefits. Many states had ended their participation in these programs earlier than the legislated September 6th end date to push unemployed Americans to return to work, but this has had mixed results.
Extended benefits still available after unemployment ends?
Most state agencies (e.g. CA, NJ and Nevada) have confirmed that claimants on the PEUC, PUA, MEUC and FPUC programs will file/certify for benefits for the last time covering the week ending September 4, 2021. Any active claims with or without remaining balances will expire after this date. No further benefits will be paid, including the $300 weekly boost.
Some claimants may be eligible for State Extended Benefits (SEB), but these are only available for an extra week until September 11th in most states. In either case, after September 4th all claimants must have a regular UI claim to continue receiving benefits. See the state specific UI pages for more details.
Options to Extend Pandemic Unemployment Benefits
However with the rapid spread of the Delta strain and prospects of an economic slowdown heading into the winter months, government leaders are having serious discussions at the federal and state levels keep some or all of the pandemic unemployment programs in place through at least the end of 2021.
There is even talk of the Biden administration repurposing some of existing ARPA stimulus bill funding to extended unemployment programs to the end of 2022. This is similar to the 6-week LWA extension that then President Trump did by executive order in September 2020 when Congress could not agree on funding the first extension to the original CARES act stimulus.
[Recent Update] The Biden administration recently advised that they won’t use Executive or federal orders to push to extend federally funded unemployment benefits past the September 6th expiration date. Instead they are encouraging states with high unemployment to use some of the existing $350 billion in stimulus funding for State and Local Fiscal Recovery (SLFR) to fund enhanced unemployment benefits for as long as needed.
Leaving the extension of unemployment benefits to states is the most likely path for a short term benefits extension given there are still significant unspent funds left under the APRA stimulus bill.
I will continue to monitor these and post updates as more information comes to hand.
Pandemic Unemployment Programs and Impact
As you can see from the graphic below, the PUA and PEUC programs make-up nearly 70% of unemployment benefits paid over the last 12 months. These programs, in addition to the $300 to $600 weekly boost, have helped tens of millions of people and their families get through the worst economic crisis in over a century.
When these federally funded programs officially end in September, unless an unlikely extension is approved, the main option left to jobless workers will be traditional state unemployment.
With unemployment levels still above pre-pandemic levels, there is a real concern that the impending end of enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits with no new stimulus payments on the horizon, millions of jobless workers could be left in financial ruin as economic and job growth may stall in the coming months as new COVID strains wreak havoc.
The biggest concern however is that those who got benefits under the PUA program, such as freelancers and gig workers, would not qualify for regular state unemployment which requires a W2 or some proof of employer based income. This is going to potentially leave millions without any benefits and no recourse for getting regular state unemployment benefits.
States that have ended benefits early are already facing backlash and law suits from jobless workers and advocate groups, but are holding firm that the number of unfilled vacancies support the early termination of benefits.
Proponents of keeping benefits going say that some workers are unable to return to jobs just yet due to fear of falling ill or difficulty accessing child care. Estimates suggest that nearly 75% of jobless workers in these states have no access to any form of unemployment benefits.
While it’s too early to say if this is the case, there is little doubt from the comments below and across this site that the unemployment pandemic is far from over.