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Senate Democrats reached an agreement on Friday to expand unemployment benefits under the coronavirus relief bill to $ 1.9 trillion.
They will now seek to get the Pandemic Aid Act to President Joe Biden in a timely manner to avoid a gap in unemployment benefits.
According to some experts, it may be too late to prevent this from happening.
“The unfortunate reality is that we waited a little too long,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, unemployment expert and policy advisor at Employ America. “You needed an invoice for that [President Biden] until Valentine’s Day. “
The Democrats approved the change in unemployment in a vote across the party line during a voting marathon on amendments. The House now intends to approve the Senate version of the plan by next week and send it to Biden to sign the bill.
Democrats are trying to pass their final bailout before March 14, the day the current $ 300 a week unemployment benefit will expire. However, the delays on Friday threatened the expiry of the deadline.
Without a further extension, millions of the long-term unemployed would lose income support and fall off the so-called benefit cliff.
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According to the Department of Labor, more than 18 million Americans were raising unemployment benefits in mid-February.
American rescue plan
The House Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 last Saturday. The bill would extend unemployment benefits through August, increasing it by $ 400 per week.
Senate Democrats want to pass the laws this weekend. You are weighing changes that may ultimately reduce the $ 400 surcharge and extend the benefits through September or another date.
The house must then approve the Senate version of the plan and send it to Biden’s desk.
This seems likely. However, certain administrative steps and technological hurdles suggest that there will be a performance gap of several weeks for some workers, according to experts.
“I think there is a subset of people whose benefits will end on this bluff on March 14th,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation.
These delays also occurred earlier in the pandemic – after the passage of the CARES law in March 2020 and again after measures such as support for lost wages in the summer and the law on continued support in December.
However, some states have done better than others.
Federal data indicate that, for example, almost 3 million people fell off the so-called Benefit Cliff after Christmas.
States usually have to wait for instructions from the Department of Labor to implement new rules after a law has been passed. They then need to code these rules into their systems and test them.
“After delivery, our sales person will have to reprogram the system and will not be able to begin this work until we receive rules and regulations from the Department of Labor,” the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said of the American Rescue Plan at a town hall this week .
However, the governor and other state officials are working to avoid a performance gap, the ministry said.
“A couple of weeks of chaos”
This process can take some states about four to five weeks or more, Pancotti said.
States like Wisconsin have not yet granted some residents additional benefits under the December Aid Act.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic, experts said. Delays probably won’t last as long as some previous ones.
For example, the rules don’t seem to change much, reducing complexity and programming time. And the Democrats seem intent on getting the bill passed by a simple majority, using a budget process called reconciliation, which gives states more clarity.
“I think everyone is expecting a few weeks of chaos where workers may not get paid on time,” Pancotti said. “”[But] We think it will be shorter [delay]and for fewer workers and fewer states. “
Also, not everyone is ready to lose aid on March 14th.
The date is a “soft cliff”. Workers who exhaust their maximum 50-week benefit assignment through temporary programs will be fired.
Such people have been collecting help since the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
But those who haven’t reached 50 weeks can still get money until April 11th. These workers have a little air to breathe, said Stettner.
It is to be hoped that delays will not last longer than two to five weeks, added Stettner.
What should I do
The employees should continue to certify benefits like every week, said Stettner.
This way, even if there are delays, they will receive a refund for those weeks. States should spend these funds automatically as long as workers certify it.
“Keep doing what you are doing,” he said. “And if for some reason it doesn’t happen the first time, keep trying.”
If workers can’t get a performance certificate, they should record their attempts – for example, by taking a screenshot of failed login attempts or outgoing calls to an employment agency, said Stettner.