Edwards administration explores what new jobless pay enhancement means here
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he believes President Donald J. Trump’s reduced extension of federal unemployment benefits was created in hopes that Congress will preempt it with actual legislation.
“Nobody,” Edwards said after participating in conference calls with the Trump administration, “not the president, not the vice president, not [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin, nobody believes the executive actions taken by the president on Saturday are a realistic and complete substitute for the legislation that Congress needs to pass. In fact, they said that expressly.”
But for now, with no agreement on further coronavirus aid on the congressional horizon, the president’s action is what there is. And the state is scrambling to figure out what it means.
St. Mary Parish has a big stake in that effort. The June report from the Louisiana Workforce Commission said more than 2,000 parish people were unemployed.
The CARES Act created a $600 per week enhancement to state unemployment benefits to provide relief during the coronavirus pandemic. The enhancement was completely funded by the federal government. The federal enhancement expired July 31.
Trump’s executive order creates another federal enhancement, but with some changes.
The total enhancement is lower — $400 a week. And, Edwards noted at his Tuesday press conference, the federal government will pay only $300, with the state expected to pay the extra $100.
The state unemployment trust fund, which had a bit more than $1 billion March 1, is currently down to about $253 million, Edwards said.
The governor said he believes that sometime in the near future, the fund will be forced to borrow from the federal government to remain solvent. And that means a surcharge on employer unemployment insurance payments in order to pay off the loan, the governor said.
But that problem would be avoided if Congress can reach a deal on new coronavirus relief, he said.
The state may have the option of counting the regular unemployment payment, a maximum of $247 a week, as the state match. But then the overall benefit would be only a maximum of $547 instead of $647.
Also, workers entitled to less than $100 in weekly unemployment benefits may not be eligible for the enhancement. Edwards said about 200,000 jobless Louisiana workers get less than $100 in benefits.
Another problematic aspect of the Trump action is the source of federal funding. The money is coming from the federal Disaster Assistance Fund administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
That’s the fund from which disaster assistance comes after disasters such as hurricanes.
Although not all the aid Louisiana received from the original CARES Act has been spent, it has been appropriated or allocated, Edwards said, because the federal guidance was to make the money last into December.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly what we can do to afford our workers here in Louisiana the opportunity to participate in the enhanced benefit,” Edwards said.
If every state participates in the unemployment enhancement program, the identified federal funding would last only five or six weeks, the governor said.
“This underscores the need for Congress to come up with a compromise, to sit down in a room and figure this out and pass Phase Four of coronavirus relief legislation that specifically appropriates money in the traditional method to provide unemployment benefits.”