COVID & Unemployment

Trump’s relief delay causes unemployment confusion

Mitchell Hartman Dec 28, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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President Donald Trump has signed the COVID-19 relief bill after refusing to do so for several days. Above, the president and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House for Mar-a-Lago last week. Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Trump’s relief delay causes unemployment confusion

Mitchell Hartman Dec 28, 2020
President Donald Trump has signed the COVID-19 relief bill after refusing to do so for several days. Above, the president and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House for Mar-a-Lago last week. Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images
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After several days of delay, President Donald Trump signed the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package. But the president’s delay has caused a lot of confusion about how some of the elements of that relief package will be distributed.

By signing this on Sunday, the president let two key federal pandemic unemployment benefit programs expire briefly, but the one-day gap is a big deal.

Jobless benefits are paid on a weekly basis. When Trump signed the relief bill Sunday, this week had already begun, and it looked like none of the benefits could be given for the week when the bill became law. 

Many thought that meant 20 million people would go without the federal jobless benefit extension, the benefit for gig workers and the $300-a-week top-up everyone gets through March. 

Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore ISI, said that could have meant $9 billion or $10 billion in lost relief just for the one week. But that didn’t happen.

The rumor mill was churning: Maybe some of the states could figure out some workarounds, at least to get the $300-a-week payments to apply right away.  

Then, Monday afternoon, the New Jersey Labor Department tweeted that according to the federal Labor Department, no one in the two federal pandemic programs will lose a week of benefits after all. The Labor Department didn’t answer Marketplace’s calls. 

Michele Evermore at the National Employment Law Project said even if states end up paying for this week, it still might take a couple weeks for all the state unemployment systems to get these federal benefits flowing again, since they did expire. But everyone should get all the back pay they’re entitled to, eventually.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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