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Trump signed bill to extend unemployment benefits. Here is what’s happening now in Idaho

Business & Money

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Business Editor David Staats asks Idaho Department of Labor Director Jani Revier what the state could have done to better serve Idahoans who waited weeks for coronavirus-pandemic unemployment compensation. | BY DAVID STAATS

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – The new $300-a-week pandemic unemployment benefit is now on its way to Idahoans, state officials say.

Some Idahoans posted online Sunday night that they had received notice of $300 payments coming this week. The Idaho Department of Labor confirmed Monday night that payments started going out Monday. The department estimated that 16,000 to 17,000 Idahoans would benefit.

President Trump signed the latest coronavirus relief bill Dec. 27 after sitting on it over Christmas as he complained that its most well-known provision, a one-time $600 check for each taxpayer, was too skimpy. The law provides 11 weeks of the $300 payments for people who lost their jobs or self-employment income because of COVID-19. They extend benefits previously paid that may have expired.

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The relief will be a big help to people like Ray Sorensen, a Boise call-center worker who lost his job last February. Sorensen, 69, said that he’s been looking for work since without success. His unemployment benefits expired in September.

Meanwhile, he and his wife of 48 years are living on Social Security checks, with more than half their monthly income going to pay the $925 rent on their 650-square-foot apartment near Cole and Ustick roads.

“If I’m not able to go back to work and get some additional income, I don’t know what we’ll do,” he said.

Sorensen contacted the Statesman on Monday after several attempts to obtain information from the Department of Labor left him feeling frustrated. He wondered if, and when, he would start receiving the $300 payments.

He received $374 per week in regular unemployment compensation last spring and summer, which helped a lot, he said. So did the $600 per week federal supplements that expired in July and the five weeks of $300 per week that Trump provided afterward by diverting previously appropriated emergency-management funds.

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People who were still receiving payments when Trump signed the latest bill into law will receive the new benefits with no break in payments, Labor spokesperson Georgia Smith said by email.

CNBC reported Monday that Arizona, California, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee were among the first states to start distributing the new payments. Some states, including Connecticut and Washington, did not expect to begin payments until mid-January.

State officials were deluged with complaints last spring when Idaho and other states were overwhelmed by suddenly jobless people seeking regular unemployment compensation and supplemental payments under Congress’ original relief law. Idaho was among the slowest states in the nation to begin making payments under three programs Congress passed to rush money into their pockets.

The new law extends or renews all three programs. In the first, the $600 weekly supplements have been replaced by $300 ones. In the second, self-employed and low-income workers who do not normally qualify for state unemployment insurance payments will continue to receive payments beyond the original 39-week limit, up to 50 weeks in all. In the third, the previous 13-week federally financed extension of regular state benefits is being extended by 11 weeks, up to 24 in all.

The latter two programs expired Dec. 26, one day before Trump signed the new bill into law. The new benefits start effective Dec. 27.

There are no provisions to pay exhausted benefits retroactively, the department said in an online post. People still unemployed or whom, like Sorensen, were unemployed earlier in 2020 but whose benefits expired, can receive payments if they have continued to file regular weekly claims as the state has advised.

The programs are set to end March 13, but in some cases claimants will be able to claim through April 10, the state says.