Kentucky wins federal approval for extra jobless benefits

Additional $400/week for unemployed starting early Sept.
Posted at 3:56 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 15:56:58-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky won swift federal approval to add $400 to the weekly unemployment checks for tens of thousands of people who lost work during the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday.

The state applied for the short-term, supplemental aid this week. Recipients should start receiving the payments in early September, after the state reconfigures its unemployment insurance computer system to process and distribute the extra benefits, the governor said.

Under the program recently unveiled by President Donald Trump, no extra state money will be required for the first $300 in extra weekly assistance for each recipient.

To get the full $400 available for the unemployed, Kentucky will dip into its federal coronavirus relief aid to make up the difference, Beshear said. He said this week that he opted for the full amount because that extra $100 is “critically important” for recipients.

Tapping into the federal relief to help fund unemployment checks will leave cash-strapped states with less to spend on other pandemic priorities.

“I am committed to fighting for every dollar to help our people survive this global pandemic and our workforce return to full strength,” Beshear said Friday in a statement.

Kentucky’s portion, tapping into its share of coronavirus rescue aid, will be about $8 million per week, or $24 million during the initial three-week grant period under the program, he said.

Beshear has said he hopes the extra unemployment payments continue after that, depending in part on possible congressional action. He said most states approved for the program opted for the $300 supplement funded solely by federal dollars without drawing down on federal relief aid.

Recipients will still receive regular state unemployment benefits.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had sent a letter to Beshear on Monday urging him to request the extra jobless assistance.

McConnell, who is up for reelection this year, said Friday that unemployment insurance is a “crucial lifeline for Kentuckians facing hard times” during the pandemic. He praised Trump for the plan to “put hundreds of dollars more into the pockets of laid-off Kentuckians at no cost” to the state.

“As we all work to protect the most vulnerable from the coronavirus crisis, I’m proud Kentucky won’t get left behind,” McConnell said in his statement Friday.

The program will send extra payments to about 80,000 Kentuckians receiving at least $100 a week in unemployment benefits for the weeks of July 26-Aug. 15 and who lost work because of COVID-19, Beshear said. The supplement will apply to all programs: traditional unemployment insurance, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and the extended benefits programs, he said.

The unemployed had received $600 a week in federal pandemic aid until the assistance expired Aug 1. Congress has been unable to agree on an extension amid an impasse on a new round of coronavirus relief.

During an appearance in Kentucky this week, McConnell referred to the $300 or $400 supplement as a “more realistic” amount.

Referring to the previous $600 weekly federal supplement, McConnell said: “You have a situation where one person on one side of the street was staying home because they were being actually better compensated not working, and the fellow across the street was going to work for less. And what we tried to do was to come up with a more realistic figure, where we were not rewarding people for staying home. Because we want folks to go back to work.”