Washington applying for federal $300 jobless aid boost

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington will apply to join a federal coronavirus program that will provide an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits, state officials announced Thursday.

The Employment Security Department said in a news release that it will apply for the assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Administration no later than Friday. The program came about through an executive order by President Donald Trump after a federally funded $600 boost to weekly state unemployment benefits ended at the end of July.

To date, more than two dozen states have decided to take the funding. The program cuts the weekly benefit to $300 or $400 a week, depending on which plan governors choose. States are required to chip in $100 per claimant to be able to send out the higher amount, something few — including Washington — have agreed to do.

So far, most states that have said they are taking Trump up on his offer have chosen the $300 version. Some have not decided which plan to take.

ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the state will implement the program as quickly as possible once the state’s application is approved, and payments will be retroactive to Aug. 1. LeVine cautioned that not everyone who has filed a claim will be eligible for the extra funding.

In order to qualify for the weekly bonus, people must certify that they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19.

For those starting claims after July 1, the state’s maximum weekly benefit amount increased to $844 from $790, and the minimum increased to $201 from $188.

“We will continue to work with FEMA and the U.S. Department of Labor to pursue any additional funds for Washingtonians that may remain after the initial three-week period of benefits are distributed,” LeVine said in a written statement.

More than 1.3 million people have filed claims for unemployment in Washington since early March when the pandemic job losses began, and more than 1 million who filed initial claims have been paid. The state has paid more than $9.7 billion in benefits, including the federal money that expired last month.

Congress has not been able to reach agreement on an extension of the weekly boost, with the Democratic U.S. House wanting to continue the $600 amount and the Republican Senate proposing to scale back the extra aid. The executive order that was issued Aug. 8 keeps the program in place until late December, though it will be scrapped if Congress comes up with a different program. It also will end early if the money for the program is depleted, which is likely to happen within a few months.

The extra money is set to come as many businesses remain closed or with limited operations as counties looking to advance from their current stage of COVID-19 economic reopening are paused indefinitely due to the ongoing pandemic.

Seventeen counties are in phase three of a four-part reopening process, 17 counties are currently in phase two and five counties are in a modified phase one of reopening.

There have been more than 68,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington since the pandemic began, and more than 1,800 people have died.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

At a press conference earlier Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said that the state had seen some positive trends, with a decline in daily cases and reproductive transmission rate. But he noted that the state’s target for a two-week period is 25 cases per 100,000, and the state is currently at 110.

“We just have so far to go in this effort,” he said.