9/8 Update: DC announced that FEMA approved their application. It is possible this will turn into a one-time $1800 additional payment early October to cover July 26-Sept 5th.
UPDATE: Today, August 31st, at the very end of a press conference, when asked, Mayor Bowser announced that DC WILL be applying for the FEMA supplemental $300 benefit. She said it won’t be technically hard to change the DC system to pay this out. “This is the only thing we got.” Like almost all states, DC doesn’t have the money to kick in an extra $100.
[8/26 Update: Although the Mayor and her administration have not said anything other than what’s below, and very disappointingly there’s been very little news coverage about this in DC aside from this blog post and a DCist article, I just want to be clear that they have not formally rejected the funds. I’ve heard they are still weighing the options but there’s no way to know that because that hasn’t been said publicly.]
On Monday, Mayor Bowser appeared to state that DC will not be (at least for now) seeking to augment DC’s unemployment benefits (maxed out at $444/week currently) with the recently authorized $300 “lost wages assistance” FEMA payment. Via a creative-to-some and illegal-to-seemingly-most-legal experts Presidential executive order, FEMA is authorized to issue grants of $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund to states for lost wage payments approximating unemployment payments. States can add another $100 on top if they have the monies but it seems that most can’t afford to do so..
In response to questioning from journalist Tom Sherwood, the Mayor stated:
We don’t fully appreciate the legality of the President’s actions at this point. We think that the House and Speaker Pelosi have presented a plan that works, not just for D.C. but the whole country. So we continue to call on the House and Senate to pass a bill that would provide unemployment relief for people who can’t go back to work, their jobs don’t exist, and they need that support…I don’t think we’ll get there [in providing an extra $100 states are authorized to provide along with the $300] because I think we’ll have a better plan that is approved in this negotiation that the Congress and the Administration is having.
So although the Mayor didn’t say no, it’s pretty clear that we won’t see DC immediately join other states in providing this money. The explanation was very thin and there was no fuller explanation about the legal consequences to DC (vs the President) if DC took the grant money and the order was illegal. Would DC need to pay it back? Would anyone getting the extra funds need to pay it back? Thousands of struggling unemployed deserve a better answer.
Update: On Aug 18th, Councilmember Elisa Silverman’s office (who provides oversight over DC’s unemployment efforts tweeted a reply: ‘we need more info about DC’s financial ability to fulfill the match requirements, what administering the match would require on DC’s end, the fine print of any agreement with the feds, etc.” The Deputy Mayor/Chief of Staff John Falcicchio retweeted the remark. This is still not much of an answer (but there’s no match required).
To get the money, each state must apply for a grant from FEMA; payments would be made retroactive to where the previous CARES Act $600 left off at end of July. However eligibility is narrower than normal unemployment insurance. The payments can only goes to anyone who is currently receiving at least $100/week in unemployment insurance (including pandemic emergency unemployment for 1099s); on annual basis in DC that means roughly anyone who makes $2,000- $10,400 in wages annually would not qualify. The unemployment has to be related to COVID-19 as well; the original $600 supplemental benefit went to everyone unemployed. States administer this via its unemployment system, adjudicate appeals using this, and are responsible for recovering improper lost wages. 5% of the grant award can be used for administrative costs. DOL issued additional guidance.
The FEMA supplemental payments continue until the first of these: 1) $44 billion of fund spent 2) Disaster Relief Fund balance reaches $25 billion 3) Congress passes law to provide unemployment benefits 4) Dec 27, 2020. Funding is based the projected amount of claimants/weekly and will be disbursed for first 3 weeks. Grant applications must be received by September 10, 2020. FEMA/DoL estimates payments will take 3 weeks given how long it takes for a state to adjust their system.
States that Have Been Approved by FEMA
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- Kentucky ($400)
- Rhode Island
- New York
- Vermont ($400)
- Washington (state)
- New Hampshire
- West Virginia ($400)
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- New Jersey
- Kansas ($400)
States That Have Applied/Are Applying
- Nevada (has applied)
States That Are Rejecting
- South Dakota (confirmed)
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