Graham Kilmer

New Hurdle for Those Seeking Unemployment Aid

Federal bill signed in December has unexpected requirements, state DWD official says.

By - Feb 19th, 2021 05:49 pm
At the start of the pandemic the downtown Milwaukee Punch Bowl Social laid off 91 employees. Photo by Jennifer Rick.

At the start of the pandemic the downtown Milwaukee Punch Bowl Social laid off 91 employees. Photo by Jennifer Rick.

In December, when Congress passed an extension of federal unemployment benefits it also included a provision that may make it harder for some to access them.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a federal program that allows individuals ineligible for traditional state unemployment insurance to access unemployment benefits. This could include those that are self-employed, independent contractors or individuals with limited work history.

The bill passed in December and signed by former President Donald Trump was called the Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers Act. It increased the number of weeks someone could claim PUA from 39 to 50, and it extended the deadline for claiming those benefits from March 14th to April 5th.

But it also added a documentation requirement for PUA. Now in order to claim PUA, an individual must provide proof of employment, self employment or an offer of employment for the year before they submitted their application. 

Amy Pechacek, secretary-designee of the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) called it a “significant change” in a statement released Friday by DWD. ”It is another hurdle for people who qualify for these funds, but we are doing everything we can to make people aware of this requirement,” she said.

Last week there were more than 500,000 claims for PUA, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor. This was up nearly 175,000 from the week prior. By the last week of January, there were more than 18 million ongoing claims to some form of unemployment assistance.

This additional “hurdle,” as Pechacek called it, comes at a time of continued unemployment. The national unemployment rate dropped by only .4% after months of stagnation, with the rate hovering at approximately 6% since November, according to the monthly jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The gains in employment in January were marginal, only 49,000 nationally. This came after the country lost jobs in December for the first time since April. In Wisconsin, there were more than three times as many initial claims for traditional state unemployment insurance last week than there was at the same time last year.

Black and Hispanic Americans continue to be hit the hardest by unemployment, according to the BLS report. Both groups have continued to experience unemployment rates well above the national average with Black citizens experiencing 9.2% unemployment and Hispanics 8.6%.

The number of people experiencing long-term unemployment, defined as 27 weeks or more, didn’t change much in January. There are still approximately 4 million people experiencing this, accounting for 39.5% of all unemployment.

Read the labor department report here. Read the BLS report here.

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Categories: Economics, Health

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