With outgoing President Donald Trump’s delay in signing a COVID-19 relief package that extends unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, Washington is enacting a provision to provide a one-time benefit to nearly 95,000 people in the state.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Sunday that the state will provide $550 payments to people who were receiving federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which lapsed at midnight Saturday. Trump ultimately did sign a $900 billion pandemic-relief package late Sunday, but because he missed the Saturday deadline, the state was still expecting a weeklong gap in federal PUA payments, the governor’s spokesperson Tara Lee said.
“In our state, we prepared for the possibility of a lapse in benefits and in anticipating it, we developed a plan for a one-time payment for those who have been receiving PUA benefits,” Inslee said in a statement. “Because we established a state backup plan, we can take action today to help some of those harmed by the president’s decision.”
The PUA program expanded unemployment benefits to people who are not usually eligible for unemployment insurance, such as part-time, contract, freelance and self-employed workers, and people who can’t work because they lost child care, are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or are caring for someone who is sick.
The Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) said it would begin to issue the one-time payments Wednesday.
Inslee authorized the use of some $54 million in federal funding from the CARES Act — the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed in March — for what the state is calling the Pandemic Relief Payment (PRP) Program.
Congress passed the $900 billion coronavirus-relief package — part of a $2.3 trillion bill that includes funding to keep the federal government running — but Trump initially refused to sign it, arguing that a $600 stimulus check for most Americans should be increased to $2,000. A provision to increase the checks to $2,000 was blocked by House Republicans. The bill extends PUA benefits to March 14.
Worker advocates praised the state’s action, with Working Washington calling it “a literal lifeline [that] will keep people fed and clothed as federal support evaporates. But the labor-affiliated group also noted on social media that the money, which amounts to about two weeks of PUA benefits for most recipients, falls short of Inslee’s aim, stated earlier this month, of paying benefits “for at least the first month” after PUA expired.
“This is a meaningful support, but it is quite different from the initial commitment,” Working Washington said.
The PRP will go to people who submitted a PUA claim for benefits for the week ended Nov. 21, and who have been paid for that week on or before Dec. 24, according to ESD. Those who have a pending issue with their claim, or are receiving regular unemployment benefits, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or Extended Benefits will not receive the PRP.
An ESD spokesperson could not immediately provide information about the number of people who have pending issues with their claims.