(The Center Square) – New Jersey officials are applying for a grant program to help workers who lost a $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit when it expired on July
But the program faces challenges, and eligible unemployed workers may continue to go without benefits for several weeks, according to Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.
The FEMA Lost Wages Supplemental Assistance Program will provide an additional $300 a week to residents who lost their job due to COVID-19, according to information from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
New Jersey is opting to not add the extra $100, which would have cost about $80 million weekly, according to the Labor Commissioner’s office. Of the 28 states approved so far, only two states have asked for $400 a week payments, and South Dakota declined to participate.
The program does not go far enough, Asaro-Angelo said.
“In fact, it leaves our neediest workers, those receiving less than $100 in weekly unemployment benefits or those whose unemployment may not be directly related to COVID, out,” Asaro-Angelo said. “We were desperately hoping to see this program spark further congressional action to continue the $600 weekly unemployment benefit that did not leave behind unemployed beneficiaries.”
The program has a set of rules that will pose additional challenges, Asaro-Angelo said.
“Because this is an entirely new program funded by the disaster relief agency for which we cannot use any of our current unemployment trust fund monies, accounts, staff or infrastructure, it will not be easy or quick to get the money into the pockets of the people who need it most,” he said. “However, we have been working to get it done as soon as it can.”
Once the grant is approved, the program will be retroactive for eligible residents for the weeks of Aug. 1, Aug. 8 and Aug. 18. That money will likely come in a lump sum possibly as late as October, Angelo-Asaro said.
The program is capped at $44 billion nationwide and will end once the benefits are exhausted, Asaro-Angelo said. And the program will end if FEMA’s Disaster Relief fund balance dips to under $25 billion, which is an additional worry as Hurricane Laura aims for the Gulf Coast.
“This is not the answer for unemployed workers around the country who have been hit hard and fast by COVID-19,” Asaro-Angelo said.