These are things like how federal and state labor agencies interpret bill language on effective dates and how quickly state agencies can resume jobless benefits and also layer on a supplemental $300 weekly payout.
As of Dec. 26, an estimated 12 million workers either received their last unemployment check or saw their benefits drop to $0 because of deadlines on benefits written into the CARES Act. The freshly enacted bill pushes eligibility for jobless benefits to mid-March.
Separate from those extensions, the bill greenlights $300 supplemental payments on top of the underlying weekly unemployment check.
“If you are an unemployed worker, of course you can breathe some sigh of relief,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. But with Trump’s delay, “he has introduced substantial uncertainty for people who are struggling to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis.”
Here’s a look at some of the open questions on what’s next for workers:
How easy is it to keep the extra benefits coming?
A federal Labor Department spokesperson told MarketWatch, “as states are implementing these new provisions as quickly as possible, the Department does not anticipate that eligible claimants will miss a week of benefits due to the timing of the law’s enactment.”
But state labor agencies need some time to train their workers, change coding and implement other back-end measures. Dutta-Gupta said some states may be more nimble than others carrying out the new program. “You’re going to see a lot of variability,” he said.
For people who typically wouldn’t be eligible for jobless assistance because they weren’t formally deemed an “employee” — like a gig worker — the bill is extending “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” (PUA) payments.
For someone who would typically be classified as an “employee,” the bill extends “Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation” (PEUC) payments.
In each case, the bill is tacking on another 11 weeks of eligibility, through March 14, and supplying $300 on top of the underlying weekly benefit, according to Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy organization for workers.
The continuation might not be so seamless, Dutta-Gupta explained. “It’s going to be more of a struggle than people think,” he said.
The Labor Department spokesperson said most of the basic rules and features about PUA and PEUC programs “generally remain unchanged, [so] most of the Department’s previously issued guidance will remain effective.”
Nevertheless, there are certain new changes and the department is “working expeditiously to help states understand and implement these new provisions as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said, noting that various state implementation timetables could vary.
When is the money coming?
Labor agencies will be able to restart the PEUC and PUA weekly checks “pretty expeditiously,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. He’s one of the researchers behind the estimate that 12 million people could see their jobless benefits lapse after Dec. 26.
Then there’s the supplemental $300. “That has been a bigger challenge as they have to batch people together from multiple programs and deliver a second flat payment. I think states will take three to six weeks to get that going,” Stettner said.
Evermore had a different estimate on when the supplemental $300 would start hitting accounts. It could be a two-to-three-week range before the $300 was layered onto unemployment checks, she said.
Douglas Holmes, the president of UWC – Strategic Services on Unemployment & Workers’ Compensation, an organization representing the business community on unemployment insurance matters, said a similar timeline could apply to the supplemental money. “Three weeks is the general conventional response in normal times,” he said.
What can I do to receive all the benefits?
As federal and state agencies figure out how to implement the law, the best thing jobless workers can do is file for unemployment this week as they normally would and collect all their records to prove they did, Dutta-Gupta and Holmes said.
If a state doesn’t pay this week, it might still find a way in the future to send the benefits to people who did apply this week, Dutta-Gupta said.
When the CARES Act authorized the extra weekly $600 unemployment payments through July, some workers experienced a lag in getting the extra money.
States, in general, “have put in some serious reforms to be able to improve the administration of benefits” during 2020, Dutta-Gupta said. “States are under — and rightfully so — a lot of pressure” to get money to households in need, he added.
This article was originally published Dec. 28, 2020, and has been updated.