Enhanced unemployment benefits set to expire Saturday. What happens next for those still out of work?

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Millions of unemployed are quickly approaching the loss of enhanced unemployment benefits, including residents of Washington and Iron counties.

The additional bump to unemployment insurance benefits started in April, at which point it was announced that the program would expire at the end of July.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ COVID-19 Unemployment Insurance webpage, the additional $600 weekly stimulus payment program will expire July 25, and any new or weekly claims filed after that date will not include that benefit.

Although the loss of the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits could affect many, Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the department, told St. George News that access to additional assistance programs is seamlessly woven into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Division.

“The nice thing about Utah is that the Unemployment Insurance Division is the same website for access to many other assistance programs,” Burt said. “If a person applies for unemployment insurance they also have access to SNAP benefits, medical benefits, childcare benefits, housing, heat, weatherization.”

Between May 17 and July 11, nearly 2,000 residents in Washington and Iron counties filed for new unemployment claims, with a peak of 286 reported between June 21-27. During that total eight-week period, Washington County has reported an average of approximately 177 new claims weekly, with Iron County just shy of 54 new claims weekly.

“What we see is that there is still a need for unemployment insurance for individuals because they are still seeing their employment impacted and disrupted from COVID-19,” Burt said, adding that although the additional $600 weekly stimulus payment program is set to expire, “unemployment does not expire on Saturday.”

Anyone eligible, whether they have already filed or still plan on filing a first-time claim, has the potential to receive a normal weekly benefit of 40-50% in replacement wages, Burt said, with the amount being based on wages earned.

The maximum number of weeks claimants can receive benefits in Utah is 26 weeks. Once the state benefits have been exhausted, applicants can apply for a 13-week fully federally funded extension as part of the coronavirus relief bill.

Utah’s June unemployment figures. Graphic from Bureau of Labor Statistics, St. George News

For self-employed individuals who have been affected by COVID-19, the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance remains to pay out benefits through the end of the year.

On a macro-level, Washington lawmakers cannot reach consensus on whether – or by how much – to renew the enhanced federal benefits that are set to mostly expire by the end of the week and in total by July 31.

The Republican party is standing fast that federal enhancement payments to unemployment benefits need to be reduced, with some lawmakers suggesting the payment of $600 per week should be modified to between $200 and $400.

The Democrats are seeking to maintain the status quo of $600 per week to continue through the beginning of 2021.

“The best way to control unemployment is to provide stability,” Burt said. “We don’t know what unemployment will look like as Congress debates, but we do know that employment provides that stability.”

Burt said it will ultimately come down to Congress to decide.

“They have to weigh, ‘What are the risks of taking enhanced benefits away?’ or ‘Is it encouraging people to stay on employment?’ But what we are responsible for is implementing the laws that are passed and get the benefits to the people who are eligible for them.”

As part of its ongoing outreach, the Utah Department of Workforce Services will host a virtual statewide job fair on July 30.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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