Help May Be On the Way for 20,000 Unemployed Louisianans Locked Out of $300 Lost Wage Assistance

With only $44 billion in FEMA funding earmarked for Lost Wages Assistance, the program will likely be short-lived depending on the number of states participating and how many eligible claimants each state has.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission will conduct an outreach effort to help qualify as many as 20,000 Louisianans not currently eligible for federal Lost Wage Assistance, according to a statement released by the Commission earlier this week. The Lost Wage Assistance is the $300 weekly allotment Pres. Donald Trump ordered through executive action to enhance weekly unemployment benefits after the White House and Congress failed to negotiate a broader economic relief package for the American people once key economic elements from the CARES act expired at the end of July, including the $600 weekly boost to unemployment benefits.

Louisiana is one of just a handful of states to have its application for the Lost Wage Assistance, which is funded through FEMA, approved so far. Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah round out the states that have applied and been approved for the funding as of mid-August. And while other states are reportedly preparing to submit applications, leaders of some states states, including the governors of North Dakota, South Dakota and New York have publicly rejected the $300 payment.

LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie said her agency will marshal all of its resources to help as many people as it can, as quickly as it can.

“I am very proud that we were among the first two states to administer Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and among the first states to submit an application for lost wage assistance,” Dejoie said in a statement. “As always, we will continue to work diligently for the people of Louisiana.”

After additional guidance from the federal government, Louisiana officials confirmed this week that individuals who are not receiving at least $100 in weekly unemployment benefits along with those who did not indicate that their unemployment was directly related to COVID-19 are not eligible for the payment. Gov. Edwards has said that, in all, about 87,000 unemployed Louisianans are currently ineligible based on the criteria.

There is nothing, it seems, that can be done for the roughly 67,000 claimants who do not meet the $100 threshold.

However, out-of-work Louisianans who don’t qualify because their initial unemployment claim was not directly tied to COVID-19 can ostensibly become eligible if their continued unemployment is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. LWC workers are expected to reach out to these claimants to determine if their status can be updated to meet the standard.

This update could allow up to 20,000 people, whose weekly benefit is at least $100, to receive the additional $300. The LWC says it will message claimants directly and provide additional details. The agency expects to begin processing these updates no later than Friday, Aug. 28.

During his Tuesday (Aug. 17) press briefing, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded the state approximately $375 million in federal disaster assistance, which will supplement unemployed workers in Louisiana for their lost wages due to COVID-19.

Those who are eligible now could see the the $300 in additional weekly benefits as soon as the week beginning Monday, Aug. 24. The $300 payments are retroactive to week Saturday, ending Aug. 1. With about 417,000 unemployed Louisianans now meeting the guidelines, the $375 million that has been allotted will only pay roughly three weeks worth of claims. According to reports, after the initial dispersement, the federal dollars would then be dispensed on a weekly basis. But the pot of funds that serves as the source for the payment is limited, with only $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund earmarked for the program.

Depending on the number of states participating in the program and how many eligible workers each has, the funds could be exhausted in short order. Gov. Edwards has repeatedly said he expects the $300 payment to be temporary with funds lasting about five or six weeks, underscoring the need for Congressional action.

Louisiana chose Option 2 under the President’s executive order because the state could leverage its current unemployment insurance payment to obtain the funding for the additional $300 benefit. Under Option 1, the state would have to pay an additional $48 million per week in Unemployment Insurance payments (out the UI trust fund) on top of what is currently being paid to existing claimants. With its UI trust fund already dangerously low and approaching insolvency, it was an option the state could not afford, Gov. Edwards says.

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