On September 2, 2020

Vermont approved for $300/week unemployment payments in federal ‘lost wages’ program

Governor Scott requests Legislature to approve $100/week additionally

By Ellie French/VTDigger

Vermont has received $38.5 million in federal money to provide temporary payments of $300 per week to people collecting unemployment benefits.

The new “lost wages” program from the federal government comes after $600-a-week unemployment payments expired.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)approved Vermont’s application for a $35.8 million grant through the Lost Wage Assistance Program. The program covers the initial three weeks of benefits, after which states can apply for additional funding, if the program remains open.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order earlier this month authorizing FEMA to use up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund to cover the payments. Vermont applied for the funds mid-August.

Gov. Phil Scott has also requested $20 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds from the Legislature for an additional $100 a week in unemployment insurance for eligible Vermonters, bringing the total to $400 a week, for three weeks.

The funds cover the weeks ending on Aug. 1, Aug. 8, and Aug. 15. Both the federal funds, and the state’s additional $100, are set to expire at the same time.

“There’s not a big pot of money there, so that will run out in about three to four weeks without further action by Congress and the president and so forth, so we’re following the same timeline,” Scott told reporters at his twice-weekly press conference Tuesday.

As of Monday, 26 states had been approved for the added benefits, and 10 more either applied or signaled they planned to apply. Michael Harrington, commissioner of the Department of Labor, said because so many states applied and have been approved, it’s very likely there won’t be any funding left after the first three weeks.

The LWA program applies to claimants who were eligible for unemployment benefits as of Aug. 1.

Scott said it will probably be two to three weeks before Vermonters actually receive the money, even though the state has already gotten the go-ahead from the federal government.

“There’s a lot of restrictions and guidelines and so forth, so it’s not going to be as easy as it might seem to get that money out,” Scott said.

Harrington said the state will use the unemployment information it already has on file to make the payments.

However, a key difference between the new benefit and the original $600/week Vermonters were seeing from the federal government is that the new benefit won’t be combined into one big check with claimants’ regular unemployment insurance benefit — largely because the new program is so short-term.

Instead, Vermonters will see their regular unemployment or PUA check, and a totally separate check for $300, Harrington said.

“And we’ll probably end up issuing different separate checks for each week of the benefit,” Harrington noted. “But we may issue all of those at the same time.”

The governor called the extra payments  a “necessary step” to bring Vermonters’ financial security as the pandemic continues.

“This supplemental assistance offered through President Trump’s executive order will help those who haven’t been able to return to work through this difficult period, and we continue to urge Congress and the White House to work together on a longer-term solution for these displaced workers,” Scott said in a statement.

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