SALT LAKE CITY — People put out of work because of the COVID-19 outbreak are getting help just in the nick of time, as CARES Act funding is set to expire the day after Christmas.
The Utah Unemployment Insurance Division reported Tuesday that the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act will include funding to extend jobless benefits to people sidelined by the pandemic. The expiration of benefits from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act leaves thousands of Utahns without a financial safety net, but the new measure passed late Monday night offers those individuals a reprieve for at least the next 11 weeks.
“The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was set to expire on Dec, 26. This is a federally funded unemployment program for those that are self-employed or gig workers. (The program) has been extended through March 13,” explained division director Kevin Burt. “In addition to the extension of the deadline. There’s also an extension in the number of weeks an individual can receive the unemployment benefits if they are eligible. Pandemic unemployment assistance was limited to 39 weeks, (now) there’s an additional 11 weeks that have been added for a total of 50 weeks. The pandemic extended unemployment benefit is the other one that has been extended with this recent bill that has passed congressionally.”
People who had exhausted their state benefits and who transitioned to the federal, 13-week extended benefits will also have their aid provided through March 13 of next year as well, he said.
The other significant change that was specific to the unemployment insurance program is a reinstatement of the federal pandemic unemployment compensation, he added.
“That is going to be in this round an additional $300 stimulus for anyone that is eligible for an unemployment benefit,” Burt said. “That includes both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the extended benefit, as well as your traditional state benefit. That is payable for the week ending Jan. 2.”
While the parameters of the new aid and stimulus package have been set, generally speaking, he noted that the bill still must be signed by the president before being enacted into law. That could happen in a few days or possibly longer, he said. However, once the measure is made official, the state will again begin processing claims from individuals seeking assistance.
“Once it’s signed into law, then it’s the responsibility of the United States Department of Labor to interpret that law and provide guidance to each individual state of how to properly administer each aspect of the bill,’ Burt said. “For some context, our initial stages of the CARES Act took a few weeks to be able to receive that guidance, then once we receive that guidance we will be able to look at our operational abilities and make sure to focus on providing these important benefits to those who are eligible.”
Speaking during an online news conference, he said that 278,000 Utahns have applied for unemployment benefits since March 15. Since then approximately 29,000 had transitioned to the extended benefits.
He said even though the state is still receiving historic volumes of weekly jobless claims, the state’s low unemployment rate is an indication that thousands of Utahns have been able to get back on their feet and have found a job.
“That is very promising to see that about 90% of people who are receiving unemployment benefits haven’t even applied for the extended benefits, meaning that it is very likely that they have returned to work,” he said. “There are individuals that are exhausting (their benefits) and these additional 11 weeks will help them to make sure that they continue to get it. But again, it just emphasizes there are certainly opportunities (for individuals to find work).”