GOP unemployment compensation scheme could cause delays, states warn


A Republican proposal to reduce the increase in weekly benefits by $ 600 for those unemployed due to the coronavirus shutdown could lead to weeks, or even months, of late payments in some states.

Older computer systems that took weeks to set up for the initial improvement in federal unemployment are expected to be reprogrammed twice as part of the GOP plan.

In Florida, State Representative Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said the state had not even gotten the original supplemental benefit for everyone who was entitled to it.

“So the idea of ​​changing the current process that took us months to put in place, which isn’t even perfect yet, is a scary thought,” she said.

“These changes, whatever they are, are going to create more bureaucratic layers for people to get the relief they need. Until then we have bills to pay, we have to put food on the table, we have to. medical bills and a lot of people are suffering. “

How to deal with unemployment is a fiercely contested part of the debate as Congress negotiates the latest relief legislation.

Democrats want to reinstate the expiring federally funded $ 600 per week unemployment premium, saying it’s a way to keep families and the economy afloat at a time when there are many more unemployed than jobs available.

Republicans argue that the current amount is so high that it encourages people to stay unemployed. They want to reduce it in two steps: first, by reducing benefits by two-thirds – to $ 200 per week until September. Then they want to move from that flat rate to a percentage where the unemployed receive benefits equal to up to 70 percent of their previous earnings in November and December.

The debate is not just about economics and ideology. It is also about what is technologically feasible, especially on software used by many states dating back to the 1970s.

Some states took a month to figure out how to deal with the initial $ 600 a week benefit when it was introduced this spring, leaving laid-off workers deadlocked as the number of unemployed skyrocketed. Last week, more than 16 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits.

“Anything other than a flat rate would take time to program into our system as it would require individual income calculations for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans receiving unemployment benefits,” said Bret Crow, a ministry spokesperson. from Ohio Employment and Family. an email.

He said it was not clear how long it might take to change the system.

In Tennessee, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development says it would need “a lot of time” to make changes; how much depends on what the policy is.

Washington was among the first states to implement the $ 600 benefit increase. But Mike Faulk, spokesman for Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said large-scale changes would slow benefit payments and “place a significant burden on state unemployment agencies.”

State Job Security Commissioner Susan LeVine wrote this month to the state’s congressional delegation telling them, “Put simply, the state’s unemployment systems do not. cannot switch overnight on August 1, 2020 and will require a transition period. “

A woman walks past the DC Department of Employment Services American Job Center, which helps find employment for residents of Washington, DC, July 16.

Saul Loeb | AFP via Getty Images

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he didn’t believe state unemployment systems could handle a variable federal benefit tied to a person’s previous earnings. He encouraged the Louisiana congressional delegation to support a flat-rate unemployment benefit instead.

“If they go beyond that, I’ll tell you it’s going to be very, very difficult to administer,” he said.

California Democratic Congressman David Chiu said the state is struggling to deliver benefits on time.

“I have no confidence that they will be able to adapt,” he said. “For me, that’s why I really hope Congress just extends the $ 600 per week to make it as transparent as possible.”

Annelies Goger, a member of the Brookings Institution, a center-left public policy organization, said even a change in the lump sum increase could be delayed because states must wait for federal guidance before implementing changes. Switching to a percentage of income would be even more difficult, she said.

For example, it would be difficult to collect the data necessary to determine the past incomes of people who were self-employed or who worked at concerts. These workers are generally not eligible for unemployment benefits, but they are subject to coronavirus relief legislation.

And Goger said it would take a lot of resources to tweak a schedule that’s slated to end in December.

“Most states are still very overloaded with upfront claims every week and struggle to deal with bottlenecks in the adjudication process and make payments accurately and on time,” Groger said in a statement. E-mail.

“All the resources diverted from these arrears will delay helping families who are struggling to pay their rent and get food on the table.”

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told the Senate on Monday that the fallout from delays and benefit cuts could be significant.

He pointed to an analysis by the Left Economic Policy Institute which found that reducing the boost to $ 200 per week would result in an additional 3.4 million layoffs.

“The economy is collapsing, people are injured, they are kicked out of their homes, they cannot feed their children,” Schumer said. “The Republican proposal on unemployment benefits, in simple terms, is unworkable. It will delay benefits for weeks, if not months, as we slide into a deeper recession.”

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