All Louisianans currently receiving state unemployment benefits will likely be eligible for the partial extension of weekly federal benefits authorized by executive actions taken by President Donald Trump over the weekend, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The governor made the announcement Thursday, two days after he said nearly half of the state’s unemployed workers would be ineligible for the weekly $300 payments on top of state unemployment benefits.
Edwards said Louisiana meets that requirement and the state is seeking the extra $300 for all 454,000 eligible unemployed Louisianans.
“I’m fully aware that the $300 benefit is half the enhanced benefit that was being paid, but I’ll remind you that the state benefit will continue to come with that,” Edwards said. Louisiana’s state unemployment benefits, which are capped at $247 per week, are among the lowest in the nation.
It’s not clear if this arrangement is illegal, but with so many workers in need of additional assistance, Edwards said he does not think anybody will challenge it.
“Certainly not the state of Louisiana, because we’re going to be taking advantage of it,” Edwards said. “The federal government is the one making it available, they’re not going to challenge it. So that’s just not something that I’m worried about.”
The $300 bump to weekly unemployment benefits will be retroactive to Aug. 1, Edwards said.
The federal government has not given an official estimate of when the funds will be transferred to states, but Edwards said preliminary conversations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave a time table of “about two weeks.”
Edwards said the state will be able to quickly distribute the payments to people who currently receive more than $100 per week from the state but it will “take some time” to reach those below that threshold.
Edwards said the Louisiana Workforce Commission will have to modify its computer system to process those payments.
The confusion centered around cost-sharing requirements outlined in the memorandum the president issued Saturday setting up the program.
With Congress unable to directly appropriate the additional unemployment benefits in a fourth coronavirus relief bill, President Trump tapped into an unusual funding source — the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s Disaster Relief Fund.
The fund is typically used to help states struck by hurricanes and other natural disasters by covering 75 percent of the cost of their response efforts. That cost-sharing requirement extends to states seeking additional unemployment assistance through this program.
Initially, governors and officials with state unemployment offices thought that the $100 had to be paid in addition to any state benefits unemployed workers are already receiving — something very few states could afford. Unemployment trust funds across the country are dangerously low.
By Monday, multiple federal officials clarified that current state unemployment benefits could count toward the requirement. But 200,000 unemployed Louisiana workers receive benefits less than $100 per week. Edwards said Tuesday that they would be left out of the new program.
But the most recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor is even more lenient. States can distribute the full $300 federal portion to all workers who qualify for state benefits, as long as the average payout is above $100 per week.
The $44 billion dollars available for the payments is only expected to cover five weeks of payments for the estimated 31 million Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission, which runs the state’s unemployment program, has paid a total of $5.4 billion in unemployment benefits to the citizens of Louisiana from March 22-August 13, 2020, dwarfing the $153 million total paid out in 2019.
“Amidst the pandemic, Louisiana was one of the first to pay out Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits providing relief to self-employed and gig workers,” LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie said in a statement Thursday. “Our staff has worked tirelessly and diligently to assist all Louisianans in need. Our office will continue to assist all citizens as we continue to move towards recovery.”