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Pandemic unemployment benefits will not suffer week-long gap despite Trump delay

  • A note on a locked door at the New Hampshire Employee Security center, which handles unemployment claims, gives directions to those in need in Manchester, N.H., Thursday, April 16, 2020. Due to the virus outbreak, a note on the office door requested that all claims be handled remotely either on the phone or online. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Monitor staff
Published: 12/29/2020 5:43:02 PM

New Hampshire will not face a lapse in pandemic-related unemployment benefits this week, a state official said Monday – despite the delay of President Donald Trump in signing the latest aid package.

Trump signed the latest COVID-19-related relief package on Sunday evening, a week after Congress passed the bill. Among the items in the bill was an extension of two key expansions of unemployment benefits.

Those expanded benefits, which were passed in March at the outset of the pandemic, were set to expire Dec. 26. Because Trump signed the bill Dec. 27, after a week of criticizing it, many had feared that the extension would be delayed by a week.

The delay could have bumped more than 20,00 of Granite Staters off pandemic unemployment assistance for a week. 

But on Monday, the U.S. Department of Labor reached out to states to tell them it was accelerating approval of funds, effectively eliminating the delay, according to Richard Lavers, Deputy Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.

“USDOL previously told states that because the extension of the CARES Act unemployment programs wasn’t signed by the President by Saturday that states would not be allowed to pay benefits during this current week, if and when it did get signed,” Lavers said in an email to the Monitor Monday, referring to the Department of Labor.

“USDOL then changed their guidance today telling states that now that the bill has been signed they have changed their interpretation and there will not be a required gap week in payment of benefits.”

The change means that two pandemic programs, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, will be allowed to move forward.

The PUA allowed new categories of people to receive unemployment benefits who would not normal qualify – in particular the self-employed, and anyone who left their job due to COVID-19 related reasons.

The PEUC created a 13-week extension for the maximum number of weeks people can receive unemployment benefits continuously. In New Hampshire, that maximum is usually 26 weeks. The PEUC meant it was extended to 39.

Under the $900 billion stimulus package now signed into law, both the PUA and the PEUC will continue another 11 weeks, sunsetting on April 3, according to Lavers.

The package includes an additional $300-a-week federal supplement to state unemployment benefits that will continue 11 weeks as well, akin to a $600-a-week enhancement passed this spring.

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