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Despite widespread job openings, Biden administration to extend jobless benefits past deadline

Lawmakers enacted weekly $300 unemployment payments and set them to expire Sept. 6 in response to joblessness during the pandemic.

Updated: August 22, 2021 - 10:14pm

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The Biden administration is working to ensure that $300 weekly unemployment payments from federal taxpayers continue in some form beyond their expiration date set by Congress.

Lawmakers enacted weekly $300 unemployment payments and set them to expire Sept. 6 in response to joblessness during the pandemic. A political battle is expected over the payments, especially since many Republicans have argued they are contributing to elevated unemployment despite widespread job availability.

Now, though, the heads of the Departments of Treasury and Labor are working to continue the unemployment benefits. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Department of Labor Secretary Martin Walsh sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal laying out their plan and urging Congress to reform unemployment benefits.

“The American Rescue Plan allocated $350 billion to state and local governments to support communities’ continuing response to the pandemic, address its economic impacts, and lay the groundwork for a strong and equitable recovery,” the letter says. “Now, in states where a more gradual wind down of income support for unemployed workers makes sense based on local economic conditions, American Rescue Plan funds can be activated to cover the cost of providing assistance to unemployed workers beyond September 6th.”

Yellen and Walsh are also instructing states on how they can keep unemployment payments going beyond Sept. 6 using those funds previously allocated by Congress instead of waiting for new legislation to renew the payments.

Exactly how these payments are distributed, or whether they are at all, will likely vary by state.

“First, the Treasury Department is re-affirming that states can use their allocations of the $350 billion in American Rescue Plan State and Local Fiscal Relief Funds to provide assistance to unemployed workers, including by continuing to provide additional weeks of income support to workers whose benefits expire on September 6th and to workers outside of regular state UI programs,” the letter says. “Second, the Department of Labor will communicate to states about how they can use their existing UI infrastructure to support these state-funded benefits using American Rescue Plan funds. This will enable states that choose to do so to more seamlessly provide support to unemployed workers, while complying with existing federal law and regulations.”

The letter is the latest update in the ongoing debate about the effect that added unemployment benefits have on the economy and could complicate the political battle over allocating more funds for the program. The $300 weekly payments double the amount paid in many states, and critics argue it has made Americans less willing to return to work.

A Morning Consult survey released earlier this year reported that 1.8 million unemployed Americans turned down job offers because they wanted to continue receiving unemployment benefits. With that idea in mind, more than two dozen governors have turned down the benefits, though legal challenges have put their some of their decisions in limbo.

Some Republicans in the Senate have already laid the groundwork for a fight over the benefits when lawmakers return to Washington after the August recess.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., along with other Senate Republicans, introduced the "Get Americans Back to Work Act" in May, which would end the payments.

“Businesses throughout Florida have signs on their doors saying they are understaffed due to the ‘labor crisis,’” Rubio said after the bill's release. “The inability to find employees is a real problem, and small employers across our country are struggling to maintain their businesses. This legislation would help Americans get back to work and help our economy recover.”

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