AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT OF 2021

$400 new weekly unemployment benefits: when are they coming?

Democrats want to get the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to Biden’s desk before 14 March. The Senate is expected to begin debating the bill Wednesday.

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$400 new weekly unemployment benefits: when are they coming?
JONATHAN ERNST REUTERS

Democrats are on a tight deadline to pass the $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief bill through Congress, including extending temporary federal unemployment benefits programs. Unemployment benefits set up during the early days of the pandemic are set to expire once again 14 March. If debate drags out over provisions in the bill, payouts of jobless aid could be interrupted as a consequence.

After passing the House on Saturday, Senate Democrats debated how to include a rise in the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. The provision was left in the House version of the bill even though the Senate parliamentarian decided that rules governing “reconciliation” prevented them including a straight-up wage hike to the legislation. In the end, Democrats dropped the provision to help speed the passage of the bill, but there are still items in the bill that will be up for debate.

Senate will debate provisions of the stimulus package

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is one of Biden’s top priorities and Democrats have been working fast to pass the legislation through Congress. In order to smooth the path forward they are using budgetary reconciliation whereby they can pass it with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes normally required by Senate rules. With that chamber evenly split 50-50 between the Democratic and Republican caucuses, Democrats cannot afford to have a member or ally vote against it.

Besides the proposal to raise the minimum wage, moderate democrats have expressed concerns about the how the $350 billion for state and local governments in the legislation will be used. Democratic lawmakers fear that some states could cut taxes rather than spend the money on needs related to the covid-19 pandemic once the money is handed out.

These senators would like to see the funding better spent on infrastructure projects to boost the economy more directly. Biden met with a group of centrist senators to discuss the relief bill on Monday.

Unemployment benefits extension could be lengthened

Not only do Democrats want to seize the current momentum to pass the sweeping bill taking advantage of party unity, the clock is ticking down to unemployment benefits expiring again. The programs were allowed to lapse in December when former President Trump delayed signing the $900 billion covid-19 relief bill passed shortly before they were set to expire. That 11-week extension of two key pandemic unemployment assistance will start running out of benefits 14 March.

President Biden originally called for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), along with the federal weekly boost to jobless payments, currently for $300 to be increased to $400, to be extended through September. However the House bill that will be considered in the Senate only extended them until 29 August. Now there are calls to extend them an extra month from senators according to Jeff Stein at the Washington Post.

When will the extended unemployment benefits arrive?

Senate Democrats will begin to debate the covid-19 relief bill passed in the House beginning Wednesday and it is expected they could pass the bill by Friday. However if deliberation on the bill drags out that will delay when the bill gets to Biden’s desk. Even if Biden signs the bill by 14 March, the unemployed could see a temporary disruption in payments.

Guidance on the new law must first be issued by the US Department of Labor. Then it will be up to the states to reprogram their antiquated systems with the new provisions. This has previously caused delays in getting out the payments, as happened when the latest extension was allowed to lapse for just a couple days.

Over 4 million beneficiaries will go over a "hard cliff" if unemployment benefits are allowed to expire according to The Century Foundation. Instead of seamlessly continuing to receive unemployment insurance, they would then need to be reenrolled into the programs which could take several weeks delaying payments further.