AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN

Will the emergency unemployment benefits be delayed?

President Biden's new stimulus bill provides a $300 weekly additional jobless allowance, but issues with state and federal systems have caused delays for millions.

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Will the emergency unemployment benefits be delayed?
SPENCER PLATT AFP

The American Rescue Plan was signed into law on 11 March, a major legislative achievement for President Biden that appeared to have come in the nick of time.

Lawmakers were desperate to get the $1.9 trillion proposal passed before 14 March, the date when the additional unemployment benefits provided by December’s emergency relief bill were due to expire.

But it seems that, despite meeting the deadline, administrative issues related to the continuation of the programme have left millions without the additional unemployment benefits that they should have had. But what has happened, and who are affected?

Why has there been a delay to additional unemployment benefits?

Biden managed to get the bill signed in time but passing legislation and implementing it are often two very different things. Matters are particularly complicated in the case of the various forms of unemployment benefits, which are funded and overseen by both state and federal governments.

In this case it seems that around 2 million Americans are suffering a lapse in benefits, coming at a crucial point in the United States’ economic response to the pandemic. Just last week the Harvard Business Review released a report suggesting that the US is facing an unemployment crisis; over 4 million Americans have been without a job for over 6 months.

Unfortunately those who are experiencing long-term unemployment are amongst those most likely to have been affected by the delay in provision, and the Labor Department’s Suzan LeVine has admitted that it could be weeks until the problem is fixed:

"Acknowledging that states need time to modify their computer systems to accommodate the extensions and modifications provided under (the relief law), the Department expects many states will need until the middle of April or later to implement the new provisions and begin notifying individuals."

Freelancers and long-term jobless will bear the brunt of delays

It is thought that the 2 million affected by the delay will be those who are also enrolled in two other programmes: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which is aimed at freelancers, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which is used to top up the unemployment entitlement of people who have depleted their state’s normal jobless support.

Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and unemployment expert at the Century Foundation, said that confusion over those two state-organised programmes could cause delays with the federally-funded additional unemployment benefits.

"We do expect some states to have delays, getting those who ran out of benefits back on and even starting up PUA and PEUC again," Stettner said in a recent interview. "You can't get the $300 without those underlying benefits."