President Donald Trump ended nearly a week of confusion and uncertainty when he signed the $900 billion stimulus bill late Sunday night — a move that avoids a government shutdown while providing for critical funding in numerous areas.
The signing ensures unemployment benefits will be extended (with a $300 supplement payment), individual stimulus checks (of $600) will be sent to the vast majority of Americans and another round of the Paycheck Protection Program will be available to small businesses.
The late signing — which comes six days after Congress passed the bill last Monday —comes with logistical problems related to the distribution of government funding.
While it is unclear if the unemployment benefits approximately 500,000 New Jerseyans are counting on will continue without a delay, it is all but certain that the $300 supplemental payment will be delayed.
Simply put, any change in unemployment benefits require rules and regulations — and instruction — from the federal government. Restarting the supplemental unemployment benefit program that ended in July is not an easy task, nor is extending payments to March 14.
Last week, Robert Asaro-Angelo, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, said his office cannot implement these changes on their own.
“We are grateful for any additional help that is on the way for our workforce, who are in such dire economic straights due to the pandemic, but we must caution New Jerseyans these benefits won’t be seen immediately,” he said. “The bill will take time to implement once the states receive the rules from the federal government.”
Once the bill becomes law, the state Labor Department will then be required to wait for directions on how and in what order to distribute these new funds, Asaro-Angelo said. Only then can it implement the programming for these benefits.
New Jersey is not alone in this predicament. It’s why the National Association of State Workforce Agencies issued a statement pleading for help.
“Millions of Americans are in desperate need of immediate assistance due to the pandemic, and we strongly encourage the USDOL to provide states the information and guidelines needed as soon as possible,” the statement said. “Once provided, states will be working night and day to ensure these new benefits are available in an expedient manner. States will be communicating with claimants as funds become available.”
Among the recipients of the extended benefits in the new bill are regular unemployment claimants as well as those receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, such as self-employed, gig and part-time workers, who are typically not eligible for unemployment.
The bill would also restart the FPUC program for all claimants, but at a level of $300, rather than the original $600, per week through March 14.
Asaro-Angelo said the DOL stands ready to administer these new benefits to New Jersey’s workforce as quickly as possible.
As of mid-December, the department has distributed $20 billion in benefits to underemployed and unemployed residents. Approximately 1.85 million unemployment applications have been filed since mid-March, when COVID-19 forced schools and businesses to shut or greatly reduce their hours or capacity.