Edwards: Louisiana to tap into $300 federal unemployment aid
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will accept President Donald Trump’s partial extension of federal unemployment aid amid the coronavirus pandemic, though without increasing the state’s payout to jobless workers, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.
The state has submitted its paperwork to federal officials to provide an extra $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits to Louisiana’s residents. That will boost the maximum unemployment benefits available in Louisiana to $547 a week, with the state and federal payments combined, once the federal dollars start flowing to the state.
It’s unclear when those federal dollars will be available to states. But Edwards said the $300 federal unemployment payments will be retroactive to Aug. 1.
Despite previous concerns that not everyone receiving state unemployment assistance would be eligible for the aid, the Democratic governor said information received from federal officials Wednesday cleared up those concerns.
“We fully anticipate that all of the individuals who are getting unemployment benefits, in excess of 400,000 individuals, that they are going to be able to get the $300 enhancement,” Edwards said.
The state’s labor department, however, will need to reprogram its computers to ensure everyone receives the aid.
Congress approved $600 weekly federal unemployment payments, on top of what states pay in unemployment assistance, but that enhanced benefit expired at the end of July. Trump’s executive order takes $44 billion from a federal disaster relief fund and offers states additional unemployment payments using that money. Critics question the validity of the order.
Edwards said Louisiana can’t afford to pay a 25% cost share to boost the extra weekly unemployment to $400, so the state will seek to tap into the $300 weekly payment offered by the Trump administration instead.
Louisiana has allocated all of the $1.8 billion in direct federal coronavirus aid the state received, and the state’s unemployment trust fund is being rapidly drained to pay the state’s existing benefits, which is why Louisiana can’t increase the weekly unemployment supplement to the full $400, Edwards said.
The governor again called on Congress to reach a broader coronavirus aid deal that includes federal unemployment assistance, saying the disaster fund money that the Trump administration has targeted to pay for the benefits will only keep dollars flowing to states about five to six weeks.
“While very much welcome, it is a stopgap, piecemeal approach,” Edwards said. “That’s better than not having it, and the good news is I think it gives Congress more time to deliver the comprehensive assistance that we need to get at least through the end of the year.”
Unemployed workers delivered a petition to the Edwards administration Thursday calling on the governor to remove the requirement that Louisiana residents must demonstrate they are searching for work to be eligible to continue to receive jobless aid. The policy has medical and other exceptions.
Edwards said he doesn’t expect to waive the requirement as he did in the earlier days of the coronavirus outbreak. He cited the state’s dwindling unemployment trust fund, which has fallen from nearly $1.1 billion in March to $230 million this week.
“With that fund dissipating the way it is, we believe it is absolutely essential to reconnect workers with work, where we are able to do that,” the governor said.
Louisiana has had one of the nation’s highest per capita virus infection rates in recent weeks. But the average number of new confirmed cases per day has fallen significantly over the past 14 days, to about 1,400.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.
More than 135,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed by Louisiana’s health department, though the true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. The health department says more than 103,000 people in Louisiana have recovered.