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$300 unemployment benefits: will there be a new round of payments in October?

The $300-a-week enhanced unemployment benefit approved by Donald Trump only covers six weeks of payments from the 1 August.

People cross the street near Time Square on September 28, 2020 in New York City. - Coronavirus infection rates have increased at "an alarming rate" in several New York neighbourhoods, particularly among the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn,

With Congress struggling to come to an agreement on a new coronavirus stimulus bill, President Donald Trump decided to take executive action in early August to give struggling Americans a helping hand following the expiration of the $600 enhanced unemployment benefit in late July.

Among a series of executive orders signed by the president was the so-called Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program to provide an extra $400 a week in unemployment benefits to eligible out-of-work Americans. Under the LWA, the federal government would cover $300 while the states were expected to cover the remaining $100.

However, most states rejected the option to pay the $100 top-up, meaning most recipients would receive an extra $300 a week, which is significantly less than the $600 payment that had been approved in the CARES Act in March and expired in late July.

The Trump-approved LWA benefits were approved to run for six weeks starting retroactively on 1 August. Arizona was the first state to send out the $300 bonus on 17 August. A total of 49 states have been approved for the LWA, with some states yet to send out the $300-a-week payments while others have already announced the end of the bonus. South Dakota was the only state to choose not to apply for the assistance.

Those states that have not yet distributed the $300 federal benefit should be sending the payments in the coming weeks, either in weekly deposits or in one lump-payment of $1,800.

Will the $300 benefit be extended in October?

The extension of the benefit will largely depend on the result of the stop-start negotiations on a new coronavirus relief bill. So far both sides have struggled to agree on the cost of a new bill – Republicans want to spend $1 billion while Democrats had initially proposed a $3.4 trillion plan but have since come down on that figure.

But one thing both sides do agree on is the need for enhanced unemployment benefits, which have been a feature of every bill put forward by both parties – the latest of which will be the Democrats' $2.4 trillion bill that is currently being worked on and could go to a vote as early as this week. The bill will be a hard-sell to Republicans, whose last “targeted” $500 billion plan (which included unemployment benefits) was blocked by Democrats a few weeks ago.

The Democrats’ latest $2.4 trillion will also reportedly include enhanced unemployment benefits, as well as direct payments, Paycheck Protection Program small-business loan funding and aid to airlines, among other provisions.

After talks between the sides broke down in August, Republican chief negotiator Steve Mnuchin has said that he and his Democratic counterpart, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, have agreed to reopen negotiations. However Pelosi will have her work cut out in getting Republicans to agree to a $2.4 trillion bill considering Mnuchin said earlier this month that the administration would not be willing to approve any plan costing more than $1.5 billion.

Nancy Pelosi
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Nancy PelosiREUTERS

Could the $300 unemployment benefit be extended without the passing of new coronavirus bill?

Yes, the benefits could be extended without the passing of a new coronavirus relief bill, much like they were in August when Trump signed the executive order on LWA.

In fact, the Trump administration have already discussed additional executive actions according to a report from the Washington Post on 9 September. Among these new actions could be another executive order on enhanced unemployment benefits.


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