(Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)
After a week of deliberation, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration said Wednesday that Virginia is in the process of applying for federal funds made available by President Donald Trump to supplement state unemployment benefits by $300 a week.
But officials cautioned many questions remain about the program, including ongoing uncertainty about how long the additional funds will last as more and more states seek to tap into the program.
Northam’s chief workforce adviser, Megan Healy, said it will likely be at least three weeks before the money begins reaching unemployed Virginians. She said the that while the state goes through the application process, they’ve already begun reprogramming the computer system the state uses to administer jobless benefits — a 1980s based system that has led to delays throughout the pandemic.
“We’re still working on our IT infrastructure,” Healy said. “We’re hoping it will be three to four weeks, but we have to get approved and guidelines are still changing everyday, so you never know what’s coming.”
Trump signed an executive order just over a week ago extending disaster relief funds to fill the gap created when a $600-weekly federal supplement expired last month and Congress was unable to reach a deal to extend the benefits.
The program was initially framed as a $400-a-week supplement, with the federal government providing a $300 match to states that agree to pay the remaining $100. But most states said they couldn’t afford to foot that cost amid a historic pandemic and the Trump administration later said that they would extend the $300 whether or not states kick in any of their own funds.
The administration is still weighing whether to provide an additional $100 supplement. Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne told lawmakers Tuesday it would cost the state $45 million a week.
“We are exploring ways to provide the additional $100 in funding to Virginians, but face many unanswered questions, administrative hurdles, and severely limited resources,” said Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky.
Program excludes lowest-paid workers
Regardless of which direction the state goes, not all unemployed Virginians who received the $600 supplement will qualify for the new program, which limits the additional benefits to unemployed people receiving at least $100 a week in traditional benefits, which are calculated based on past wages, meaning the state’s lowest paid workers will not qualify.
Healy said the rule excludes about 30,000 of the 260,000 people currently receiving benefits in Virginia.
“We are thinking about how the people that aren’t going to get the 300 dollars, is there any extra support we can give them,” Healy said. “We’ll know that in a couple days.”
Funds could run out soon
For those who do qualify, Healy said the additional benefits will be retroactive to Aug. 1, meaning recipients can likely expect an initial check for $900, or three weeks’ worth, once the program goes live. But she said how many weeks it lasts beyond those first three weeks remains to be seen because the state will be required to reapply for funds on a weekly basis.
National experts have warned that the money might not last long because Trump capped spending at $44 billion, which would be enough to cover between five and six weeks of benefits depending on how many states sign up.
Like Democrats nationally, Northam’s administration says they continue to urge congressional leaders to reach a legislative deal addressing the issue.
“Governor Northam is continuing to call on Congress to work together on a robust package with more funding — and not make states, yet again, implement a whole new unemployment program that could take weeks to start,” Yarmosky said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date to which the supplementary benefits would be retroactive. It is Aug. 1.
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