Lame duck stimulus

Actual provisions are scarce. But, you can get a description of the unemployment provisions from Michele Evermore of NELP and from the National Law Review.

Some things claimants should immediately note:

  • benefits for PEUC and PUA programs are extended an additional 11 weeks to March 14th
  • an additional $300 PUC is added for anyone receiving PEUC, PUA, EB, or regular unemployment benefits during these additional weeks,
  • anyone who has not exhausted PEUC benefits (now 24 weeks in toto) or PUA benefits (now 50 weeks in toto) can continue to receive those benefits after March 14th to the week of 5 April 2021,
  • waivers for over-payment of PUA benefits are now available (previously, over-payments of PUA benefits were not legally available for claimants caught between regular unemployment and PUA),
  • waivers of LWA over-payments are also now available,
  • claimants can file new PUA claims for job losses after 1 December 2020,
  • claimants with new PUA claims after 31 Jan. 2021 must now submit wage records verifying unemployment within 21 days, and
  • all other PUA claimants must submit wage records verifying their unemployment within 90 days of 31 January 2021 (i.e., Thursday, 1 May 2021).

Employers should note as well:

  • reimbursable non-profit employers will continue to receive the 50% subsidy through 14 March 2021, and
  • 100% federal support for work-sharing arrangements will continue.

For state unemployment agencies, waiver of any interest on federal loans to cover payment of regular unemployment benefits continue (not an issue in Wisconsin, as the unemployment trust fund was $1.2 billion as of Nov. 10th). But, federal funding for waiting week benefits is halved to 50%.

Update (28 Dec. 2020): The current president waited several days to sign this bill — until December 27th — and so both PUA and PEUC benefits were slated to expire on December 26th. That delay could mean that there will be a week gap in coverage, including the new $300 PUC that is part of these extended unemployment benefits.

A report from The Hill indicates that some states and Michelle Evermore of NELP are developing a way to keep claimants from losing this week of benefits:

According to Evermore, the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration, which administers federal aid to state unemployment programs, could modify their existing state contracts instead of writing new ones altogether, thus avoiding the lapse.

“It looks like it may be possible that states could, instead of drafting new agreements with states, they could just modify their old agreements,” Evermore said.

In essence, they could backdate their agreements to keep the funds from lapsing. But Evermore warned that the workaround may not pass legal muster, and whether states could proceed remained an open question.

One state unemployment office confirmed to The Hill that they were working on the effort. The Hill has reached out to the Labor Department for comment.

If the workaround is approved, it could potentially prevent the trimming of another benefit that provides $300 in additional unemployment insurance to the roughly 20 million people receiving them.

Lost Wage Assistance: More problems for claimants

As previously noted, the executive order that created this program is full of problems. Further commentary has continued to remark about the suspect legality of this program. See here and here.

But a possible something is better than nothing, and so Wisconsin has applied for benefits under this program.

For Wisconsin, only those who receive $100 or more in unemployment benefits of some kind will be eligible for the additional $300 in Lost Wage Assistance. As a result, the working poor are left out of this program. Luckily, because the minimum weekly benefit rate for PUA in Wisconsin is $163, those claimants will be eligible for Lost Wage Assistance benefits.

Note: WPR reports that 15,000 claimants are likely to lose out on Lost Wage Assistance when it becomes available because their weekly benefit rate is less than $100.

Still, with Wisconsin in such an administrative mess regarding unemployment, the Department does not expect to pay out any Lost Wage Assistance until late October 2020 at the earliest for benefits tied to the first three weeks of August 2020. That is, there is a three month wait before any Lost Wage Assistance benefits will actually be paid out.

As usual, Wisconsin also is pursuing an extremely limited and narrow reading of this benefit program. Here is the new welcome screen a claimant sees after connecting to his or her portal:

Lost Wage Assistance question and warning

First, claimants need to indicate they have lost work because of the pandemic to be potentially eligible for Lost Wage Assistance benefits. But, the Department is implying in this threshold question that only those who have lost work after August 1st for a specific Covid-19 related reason qualify. So, folks who lost work before August 1st are likely to answer “no” and be declared ineligible for this program when they should answer “yes.”

Note: how does a claimant change his or her answer to this question? I have no idea.

Second, the Department will apply a very restrictive view of the pandemic-related reasons for being eligible for this benefit. Basically, the Department is requiring one of the reasons specified in this chart to exist, and a general loss of work — either wholly or partially — is not listed here. As a result, the Department is denying numerous claims even though both employer and employee indicate the layoff is pandemic-related.

Finally and most problematic, clicking “yes” or “no” does nothing but bring the claimant to his or her regular portal welcome screen. There are no additional questions or information about the Lost Wage Assistance program. Hence, the claimant has no idea what the answer meant or how and why it is recorded. This question and warning screen is essentially meaningless to the claimant.

Indeed, the Department’s guidance about the Lost Wage Assistance program offers absolutely no description of this question and why it is being asked or how to answer it. As usual, claimants need to guess at what the Department wants from them.

Update (10 Sept. 2020): Added info from WPR about the number of people in Wisconsin who will not be eligible for Lost Wage Assistance because their weekly benefit rate is less than $100.

Update (14 Sept. 2020): USA Today has a feature article about Wisconsin’s demand to recoup the yet unpaid LWA benefits. As Pam Herd explains, this effort is “asinine.”

Update (15 Sept. 2020): For a run-down of what other states are doing and how the Lost Wage Assistance falls far short of the $600 PUC, see this post. WPR reports that FEMA is indicating Wisconsinites may receive six weeks of LWA benefits. These benefits still not due until the end of October, however, and no explanation yet from the Department about its repayment demand.

Update (16 Sept. 2020): WPR reports that the Department is removing the payback requirement and that it is up claimants to fix “wrong” answers about their LWA eligibility by contacting the Department by phone. Some key quotations:

Inaccurate guidance
On Friday, FEMA updated its guidance to DWD, saying the language the department included was “not entirely inaccurate,” but they added that the agency does not believe Congress will pass additional legislation that will create duplicative benefits.

Only pandemic job loss needed
But in guidance to states about who is eligible under the program, FEMA states specifically “the most recent job separation does not need to be directly related to COVID-19.”

The guidance from FEMA goes on to say “at the time of self certification for the program, the individual must be unemployed or partially unemployed due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.”

Correcting a LWA claim mistake
In an email Tuesday evening, Jedd said DWD plans to reach out to LWA program applicants in an attempt to catch those who may have answered the question incorrectly. He also said that individuals who answered the question incorrectly can call DWD’s help center and ask a staff member to change their answer to the question.

 Update (24 Sept. 2020): Marketplace has an update on the status of Lost Assistance benefits. As expected, these funds are running out, and Wisconsin may not get funding for six weeks. Also, note that nine other states have finished paying out six weeks of LWA benefits and 30 other states are in the process of distributing six weeks of LWA benefits.

Update (22 Oct. 2020): The Department announced yesterday that it has started paying out Lost Wage Assistance benefits: $300 for up to six weeks.

“Payments from the LWA program will be made retroactively to eligible claimants for up to six weeks: the weeks ending August 1, August 8, August 15, August 22, August 29, and September 5, 2020. FEMA will not fund any weeks after September 5, 2020. DWD estimates up to 220,000 claimants may be eligible for LWA.”