The Illinois Department of Employment Security is preparing to pay out new unemployment benefit funds authorized by the COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Donald Trump over the weekend, but is also asking for more guidance from the Department of Labor to ensure prompt payment of those benefits.
In a press release issued Monday, IDES officials say they are urging authorities not to “create further hardship,” and criticized the president for his “inaction” after he delayed signing the relief package earlier this month.
The new relief bill, in addition to authorizing payments to U.S. residents, also included extensions for several key programs, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits and Extended Benefits programs.
These programs all expired on Dec. 26 under the provisions of the original CARES Act, which was passed in March, but were all extended by the new COVID-19 relief package. Lawmakers have warned of potential payment delays because of Trump’s objections to the bill, which he raised only after the House and Senate voted to approve the measure.
Trump objected to the amount of foreign spending included in the government’s new spending bill, which was attached to the COVID legislation to help ensure its passage through both chambers of Congress. The president also called on Congress to raise the payouts to Americans from $600 to $2,000, an idea that Congressional Republicans have pushed back on.
Congressional Democrats plan to vote on legislation upping the payouts in the COVID relief package, but there is no indication of whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow such legislation to be debated in the Senate.
In the meantime, the COVID bill has extended multiple programs designed to help American workers during the pandemic. The PUA program provides benefits for self-employed workers, freelancers and other gig workers who aren’t eligible for state unemployment benefits.
PEUC allows states to provide up to 13 weeks of federal funded unemployment benefits to those who have already used all available state benefits.
An extended $300 benefit will be available to unemployed workers for an additional 11 weeks, through March of 2021. The package struck the 39-week maximum on benefits established in the CARES Act, according to Time Magazine, and now upped that maximum to 50 weeks.
The bill also included a program called the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation program, designed for mixed-income earners who have self-employment income, but are disqualified from receiving PUA benefits because they’re eligible for regular unemployment benefits.
The bill will allow workers who file W-2 forms and independent contracting-based forms, like Form 1099, to opt into receiving PUA benefits in lieu of regular state unemployment compensation. Those types of workers were previously eligible for state benefits, but not for the PUA benefits for contract workers.
With the new program included in the bill, as well as other changes that the legislation addressed from the original CARES Act, state officials say they are hopeful they will soon receive guidance from the DOL on how to make new payments to Illinois residents.
“The department will do everything in its capacity to ensure claimants experience as seamless a transition as possible given that this new law contains changes to existing programs that all states must now work to implement,” IDES Acting Director Kristin Richards said in a statement.
IDES has paid out more than $19 billion in benefits since the pandemic began, according to the press release.