They blew it: Millions will see unemployment benefits delayed — no matter when new relief bill passes

They blew it: Millions will see unemployment benefits delayed — no matter when new relief bill passes
Gage Skidmore.

The outdated, hard-to-staff computer systems used by numerous state unemployment insurance programs made headlines this spring, as those systems were overwhelmed by the first wave of devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent aid ushered in by the CARES Act. Now, as current aid is set to end Dec. 31, Congress continues to battle over the next round of coronavirus relief before adjourning to head to their warm homes for the holidays. Even if they succeed, states are revealing that, thanks to those outdated programs, it's already too late to avoid weeks-long disruptions in unemployment payments for as many as 12 million struggling Americans.

As POLITICO reported Friday, the systems involved simply aren't able to flip a switch once the Republican Senate finally stops blocking much-needed relief to the nation.

Worker advocates say it could take weeks for the jobless aid programs to get back online as lags in programming for outdated state systems cause delays in relief checks. "We're already too late," said Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project. From the time Congress passes an extension of unemployment aid, she said, many states wouldn't be up and running for "three weeks or four weeks" at the fastest.

Anything Congress includes in the next round of aid that is even modestly different from the programs implemented earlier this year "is going to take time to reprogram," said Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy adviser at the pro-worker Employ America. "In some states that might be a week or two; in other states, we've seen it [take] five, six, seven weeks."
Should Congress pass an extension of the programs, states would then have to wait for the U.S. Labor Department to issue guidance before sending out payments — which could be hard to turn around quickly during the holidays.

The news comes as new unemployment claims ending the week of Dec. 5 soared to 1.28 million. As noted here on Thursday, "it didn't have to be this way."

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