Even if Congress passes COVID-19 stimulus soon, lags in the system mean millions face disruption in getting unemployment support

Even if Congress passes COVID-19 stimulus soon, lags in the system mean millions face disruption in getting unemployment support
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) with bipartisan members of Congress as they announce a proposal for a COVID-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill.Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
  • Lawmakers are racing to agree a deal before many programs expire at the end of the year.
  • Many in Congress are pushing for the extension of two major unemployment programs to help people through the pandemic.
  • But experts told Politico that millions of people could disruption to their payments even if Congress passes a deal.
  • This would be down to bureaucratic problems restarting the programs at short notice, which could push people into further hardship.

Congress may have already missed its chance to seamlessly preserve unemployment support via a coronavirus stimulus bill.

Slow, bureaucratic systems used to distribute the funds mean that some people could see major delays in getting the aid even if lawmakers manage to pass a COVID-19 stimulus package this year, Politico reported.

Democrats and Republicans have been trying to negotiate a deal for months, but have remained stuck on how much money to spend, and on what.
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Two major unemployment programs are due to lapse in the last few days of December unless new funding is provided.

Congress has taken negotiations to the wire. As of Tuesday, Senators appeared to be coalescing around a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators, presented as two parts worth $748 billion and $160 billion.

However, even if the money is technically approved in time, that doesn't mean people will receive it easily.
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Politico reported that around 12 million unemployed people could still face major delays because of lags in the system.

The outlet said it could take weeks for states to get their programs together and send checks while they thrash out differences between the old funding structures and what would follow it. The two plans currently in place are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance - for gig workers and contractors - and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which increased the length of time people could receive regular unemployment insurance.
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The bipartisan proposal would extend both of these programs for another 16 weeks, to late April 2021.

Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project, told Politico it could take "three weeks or four weeks" at minimum for states to start distributing checks once approved.

"We're already too late," she said.
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Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy adviser at the pro-worker Employ America, warned Politico that small updates can still cause big problems. "In some states that might be a week or two," she said, while "in other states, we've seen it [take] five, six, seven weeks."

However, some states have said they would not let delays happen. Angela Delli-Santi, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, told Politico that her state expects "no lapse," though it depends on the exact details of the legislation.

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