Dozens of states have begun paying out enhanced unemployment payments through a new federal program, but if you’re one of hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans who don’t meet specific criteria, you won’t be receiving any of that money.
By executive order, President Trump enacted a $300 federal supplement to weekly unemployment payments on Aug. 8. The program is called Lost Wages Assistance, and it’s retroactive to Aug. 1.
Trump authorized the payments because lawmakers could not reach an agreement to extend the $600-per-week unemployment boost known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which ended July 31.
Due to limited federal funding, Lost Wages Assistance enhances unemployment payments for a maximum of six weeks in participating states.
Overall, unemployment programs have expanded during the pandemic to include a lot of people who are otherwise ineligible for benefits, according to Michele Evermore, an unemployment benefits expert at the National Employment Law Project.
The Lost Wages Assistance program does assist a lot of people, but when compared to the previous $600 payments, it cuts expanded weekly payments to $300 and excludes many jobless Americans who were automatically included in the $600 program.
“Clearly, there are people falling through the cracks, and it’s really an unfortunate group of people who are,” Evermore said.
7 Groups of People Who Won’t Get the Weekly $300 Federal Unemployment Payments
Here’s a look at who is not eligible for boosted unemployment payments through the Lost Wages Assistance program.
1. Those Who Receive Less Than $100 per Week in Unemployment Benefits
As a stipulation to receive Lost Wages Assistance payments, you must be entitled to at least $100 per week in unemployment benefits from select programs.
The $100 must come from one of these seven unemployment programs:
This is the largest exclusionary factor for receiving the funds. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans receive less than $100 per week in benefits.
Labor economist and University of Illinois professor Eliza Forsythe estimated that 6% of all Unemployment Insurance recipients don’t receive that much each week and won’t be eligible. Evermore agreed, noting that it’s “based on the best data that we have.”
For context, that 6% figure translates to as many as 928,000 unemployed Americans, based on data from the Department of Labor for the week of Aug. 1 — the first week LWA went into effect.
2. Those Who Don’t Self-Certify That They’re Jobless Due to Pandemic
While it’s true that you won’t need to apply for the $300-per-week funds, you do need to self-certify that you are out of work due to coronavirus-related reasons.
However, if you are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, you won’t need to self-certify because you already had to do so to join that program.
Depending on where you live, your state may ask if you are out of work due to COVID-19 in different ways.
“That’s going to be confusing. People are going to take that to mean different things,” Evermore said. “The question sort of comes to people out of the blue in some states.”
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The pandemic could have caused your unemployment situation for a variety of reasons beside literally becoming ill with the coronavirus. Your employer could have shut down. You could be taking care of someone who has the coronavirus. These examples qualify you for the program, and they are legitimate reasons to self-certify that, yes, you’re unemployed due to COVID-19.
But Evermore said that’s not always clear, and that some people are scared or unsure of how to answer the question.
“People don’t know what the consequence of saying no or yes is, and people might assume that there’s a consequence to saying yes,” she said.
3. The Newly Unemployed
Funding for the Lost Wages Assistance program is limited. As a result, the $300 weekly payments are only available for a maximum of six weeks.
Those weeks are Aug. 1, Aug. 8, Aug. 15, Aug. 22, Aug. 29 and Sept. 5. The payments are available retroactively — and in 39 states, LWA is only retroactive.
And the funds are available on a first-come-first-service basis.
“So if the money’s gone by the time you prove your eligibility, you won’t get paid for that period,” Evermore said.
4. All South Dakotans
South Dakota is the only state that is not participating in the Lost Wages Assistance program.
“They declined it right out of the gate,” Evermore said.
Days after Trump unveiled Lost Wages Assistance, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem released this statement: “South Dakota is in the fortunate position of not needing to accept it. South Dakota’s economy, having never been shut down, has recovered nearly 80% of our job losses.”
5. PUA Recipients in Alaska
If you receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in Alaska, you won’t be seeing additional relief from the $300 weekly payments.
Cathy Muñoz, deputy commissioner of the state’s labor department, told the Associated Press that it won’t be boosting weekly PUA payments, which largely go to gig workers and independent contractors.
Even if you are eligible, it will be a while before you see any additional payments. Alaska is still scrambling to implement a payment system. The state has one of the latest estimated LWA payout dates in the country: mid to late October.
6. FEMA Disaster Unemployment Assistance Recipients
FEMA, which funds the $300 unemployment boost, also oversees a program that assists people who lose their jobs due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and wildfires. That program is called Disaster Unemployment Assistance.
“Disaster unemployment money is also paid from the exact same pot of money that the $300 comes from,” Evermore said. And you “absolutely cannot match a disaster benefit with a disaster benefit.”
DUA is separate from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. PUA is specific to the coronavirus.
DUA is currently in effect in certain parts of California and Oregon, which have been ravaged by ongoing wildfires, but it is not one of the seven approved unemployment programs that are eligible for the $300 boost.
7. Residents of Some States Won’t See All Six Weeks of Payments
Even if your state has been approved for federal funding, you may not receive the maximum six weeks of boosted benefits. Initial approval guarantees funding to cover only three weeks of $300 unemployment payments.
After that, each state must apply week-by-week for additional funding. As of now, two states won’t be supplying the full six weeks: Florida and Idaho.
If you live in Florida, you will see a maximum of four weeks. And five weeks if you live in Idaho.
As some states still have pending applications with FEMA, it’s unclear if those are the only two states unable to make the six full weeks of enhanced payments.
What Comes After Lost Wages Assistance?
As the pandemic stretches into the fall, lawmakers are still in a deadlock over a second stimulus package. Lost Wages Assistance was enacted to bide Congress time to come to an agreement, but negotiations broke down.
Weeks into the stalemate, a bipartisan group of 50 lawmakers called the Problem Solvers Caucus struck middle ground and released a proposal that includes a second stimulus check and a $450-per-week boost to unemployment payments among several other economic relief measures.
At this point, it’s still only a proposal and has yet to come to a vote. And unemployment experts caution getting your hopes up too high.
“Prospects are pretty dim at this point,” Evermore said of additional unemployment aid.
Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow and unemployment policy expert at The Century Foundation, underscored that notion.
“As Washington was consumed by discussions on the future of the Supreme Court, millions of American continued to depend on the increasingly tenuous lifeline of unemployment benefits,” he tweeted.