Unemployed Pennsylvanians will get extra $300, but no one knows when or for how long

Ron Musselman
York Dispatch

Pennsylvanians who are unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic received a dose of good news Monday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a grant that will provide an additional $300 per week on top of the regular unemployment benefit.

But state officials aren’t sure when the money will be available, how it will be distributed or how long the payments will last under the Lost Wages Assistance program.

The LWA program is not a true unemployment insurance program, the state said. It is funded by $44 billion from FEMA made available by President Donald Trump on Aug. 8 and originally intended for storm disaster relief, the state Department of Labor and Industry said Tuesday in a news release. 

Therefore, payments to eligible workers will be delayed as states, including Pennsylvania, create new systems or processes, the labor department said.

More:Negotiators huddle in Capitol after $600 benefit expires

More:First-time jobless claims fall below 1 million for the first time since March

“L&I is working as quickly as possible to evaluate what it will take to implement this program and begin paying the $300 weekly supplement in Pennsylvania, while awaiting final program guidance from the federal government,” Pennsylvania Labor Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said in a statement Tuesday. 

“We will get this money into the pockets of the eligible Pennsylvanians who need it and will be sure to keep everyone updated throughout this complex process.”

To be eligible for the additional $300 per week, the labor department said, people must self-certify they are unemployed or partially unemployed because of COVID-19 and must receive at least $100 per week in benefits from: 

  • Regular Unemployment Compensation;
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation;
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance;
  • Extended Benefits;
  • Short-Time Compensation or Shared Work; or
  • Trade Readjustment Allowance.

FEMA said it would work with Gov. Tom Wolf to implement a system to make the funding available. Payments will be made retroactive to Aug. 1, the labor department said.

Wolf and Oleksiak both previously urged lawmakers to extend the $600-a-week federal government-funded unemployment boost that ran out last month. But with no solution in sight, Wolf directed Oleksiak to submit an application for the supplemental $300 payment plan late last week. 

“The president’s convoluted, short-term program, which will likely only provide payments for five or six weeks, will pay those who are eligible only half as much as before and will make 30,000 Pennsylvanians ineligible to continue receiving an additional weekly benefit,” Wolf said in a statement Friday.

“As I have said before and will continue to say, the extra $600 per week was the lifeline Pennsylvania families needed to get by. They deserve better.”

The $300 payment will last until FEMA funding is exhausted or the federal government enacts a new law or extends the recently ended Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, the labor department said. 

LWA will run for a minimum of three weeks and will end no later than Dec. 27, the release said.

Thirty states had been approved for the federal government's extra $300 weekly unemployment benefit as of Tuesday afternoon, according to FEMA.

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was 13.7% in July, up a half-percentage point from June's adjusted rate, while the national rate was 10.2% in July, the labor department said.

— Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @ronmusselman8.