$300 Unemployment Benefit: Who Will Get It and When?

By Patricia Cohen and Tiffany Hsu

Thirty-two states have so far signed on to President Trump’s stopgap program to get more money to the jobless. Here’s how it works.

People waiting for help with unemployment claims in Tulsa, Okla., last month.
People waiting for help with unemployment claims in Tulsa, Okla., last month.Credit...Joseph Rushmore for The New York Times

In early August, President Trump declared a plan to deliver $400 in extra weekly benefits to tens of millions of unemployed Americans — a short-term fix meant to replace the $600-a-week emergency federal supplement that expired in July.

What is now clear is that the federal supplement is $300 a week, not $400. And few states have started paying out.

Here is what we know.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which normally provides disaster relief, will provide $300 per recipient. An additional $100 was supposed to be supplied by states, but most are struggling to meet other expenses. Tax revenues have been sinking at the same time that costs — like precautions to curb the spread of the coronavirus — have soared. Ultimately the administration said the states’ basic benefit payments could be counted toward their $100 share.

Montana and Kentucky are the only states so far to choose the $400 option, according to FEMA.

Only people who qualify for at least $100 per week in unemployment benefits — either through the regular state program or a federal pandemic assistance program — are eligible for the extra federal funds.

In Colorado, for example, roughly 28,000 people, or about 6 percent currently receiving unemployment pay, will not receive the new benefit, said Cher Haavind, deputy executive director of the state Department of Labor.

ImageEmpty storefronts and light foot traffic on the Upper East Side of Manhattan underscore the pandemic’s economic toll and challenge of putting people back to work.
Empty storefronts and light foot traffic on the Upper East Side of Manhattan underscore the pandemic’s economic toll and challenge of putting people back to work.Credit...Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Ohio plans to apply, but is considering what it needs to do to upgrade its systems, said Bret Crow, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

States have until Sept. 10 to apply for the funds.

Each state is supposed to administer the new supplement, just as it processes regular state unemployment insurance and federal pandemic jobless benefits.

In the spring, when state unemployment systems were overwhelmed with claims, there were delays of weeks or even months because computer systems had to be updated and reprogrammed, and staff members trained.

Now states must again work out how to process a new program while they keep existing benefits flowing. New claims for state jobless benefits unexpectedly jumped in the most recent weekly report to 1.1 million.

On a conference call with reporters on Thursday, John P. Pallasch, assistant secretary for employment and training at the Labor Department, said it could take some states up to six weeks to figure out how to get a program up and running.

On Aug. 17, Arizona became the first state to start paying out. By Aug. 26, Texas had started paying benefits, and a handful of other states were paying benefits or were expected to begin doing so within days.

Most states, however, said it could take until mid-September or later to reprogram computer systems and take other steps to get the money to recipients. Some states don’t expect to send out funds until early October.

To finance the program without a congressional appropriation, Mr. Trump set it up to draw from federal disaster funds — a limited pool — and the administration said that no more than $44 billion would be spent.

According to estimates from FEMA and the Labor Department, that sum will cover four or five weeks of payments. The funds are supposed to be retroactive to Aug. 1, so recipients might be paid only through early September.

Keith Turi, a FEMA official, said on the call on Thursday that the initial approvals were for three weeks. “We’ll add additional weeks from there as needed,” he said.

Mr. Trump acted after Democrats and Republicans were unable to work out a deal on supplemental benefits before the August congressional recess. Democrats have steadfastly supported restarting the $600 weekly booster that ended last month. Republicans have pushed for a smaller supplement — initially proposing $200 a week, arguing that bigger sums discourage people from returning to work.

Studies by economists across the political spectrum have concluded that the additional benefits have not deterred job seekers. The latest, by the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago, found that despite anecdotal reports of people turning down jobs, “very few workers would not have returned to work” if given the opportunity. For most, the temporary nature of the supplement, the difficulty of finding another job, and concerns about career setbacks and permanently lower wages outweigh the short-term financial gain. And workers who reject job offers are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits.

Nearly 30 million people are receiving some form of jobless benefits. At the end of June, there were roughly 5.9 million job openings.

Economists say the emergency federal checks this year have kept the economy functioning, fueling spending that has supported restaurants, retailers and other businesses. The $600-a-week supplement injected roughly $70 billion a month into the economy between April and July, almost 5 percent of total household income.

Nelson D. Schwartz contributed reporting.