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Extra unemployment benefits may be delayed for weeks, even if Congress passes Covid bill

Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Millions poised to lose benefits

A lag would be consequential for millions of Americans poised to lose their benefits the last weekend in December, when temporary programs enacted by the CARES Act will expire. Federal eviction protections also end after December.

A bipartisan group of moderate senators has proposed a $908 billion package that would pay four extra months of jobless benefits to recipients of traditional unemployment insurance and self-employed, gig, and other workers receiving aid through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

I hope Congress understands the pain and the desperation people are having. I get e-mails every day, constantly talking about people facing eviction, losing their cars, worried about feeding their kids.

Bill McCamley

cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions

The plan would also pay a $300 weekly enhancement to unemployment benefits for the same length of time.

The fate of that bill, the text of which is expected to be unveiled Monday, is unclear. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., doesn’t support the bill, though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., do.

Timing not promising

Even if there is a compromise, the timing isn’t promising for unemployed workers.

Lawmakers want to attach relief measures to a funding bill that must pass by Dec. 18 to avert a government shutdown.

If President Donald Trump were to sign it into law, the U.S. Labor Department would have to issue guidance on the rules to state labor agencies, which could take several days.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., speaks alongside a bipartisan group of Democrat and Republican members of Congress as they announce a $908 billion proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on Dec. 1, 2020.

Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Then, state agencies would have to interpret the rules and code them into their computer systems, which isn’t as easy as plugging in new numbers, unemployment experts said. Then, they’d have to test those changes.

That exercise will vary in duration depending on the state, which administer benefits differently from one another. Some states use rigid systems with 40-year-old technology, the experts said.

Congress could further complicate matters for states by adding rules or details in a relief law that differ from what states have previously managed.

“The more new rules, the more new regulations, it means we will take longer and that’s just the nature of the game