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Utahns unemployed by the pandemic could see additional financial help soon

Eligible Utahns will receive an additional $300 a week for three weeks from a FEMA Lost Wage Assistance grant, while Congress continues to debate an additional stimulus pandemic stimulus bill

The Utah Division of of Unemployment Insurance reported that for the week of May 3 to May 9, there were 7,135 new claims were filed for unemployment benefits in the Beehive State, down from 9,057 claims the previous week
Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns grappling with pandemic induced unemployment could see some small relief in the coming week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will issue up $44 billion nationwide in Lost Wage Assistance grants so states can afford to issue an additional unemployment benefits to those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

In Utah, the unemployment assistance will be $300 a week, for up to three weeks and “in addition to their weekly unemployment benefit,” according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. But not all unemployed Utahns are eligible.

Utahns who received unemployment assistance during the three-week period of July 26 through Aug. 15 and are at least partially unemployed because of the pandemic are eligible for the federal grant program.

In a memo issued by Workforce Services on Aug. 17, the retroactive issuance of the lost wage assistance was expected to take four weeks, meaning funds could make their way to unemployed Utahns by next week.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that nationwide unemployment rate had fallen to 8.4% last month. Although the August data reflect a continued improvement of America’s workforce, the rate of unemployment is still much higher than February’s pre-pandemic 3.5%.

In July, the most recent data published by Utah’s Workforce Services, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment was 4.5%.

“July’s employment assessment is a third consecutive month of Utah employment improvement,” Mark Knold, chief economist at Workforce Services, said in a statement last month. “While the pace of job gains moderated a bit compared to the prior two months, the Utah economy is rebounding with vigor.”

Unemployed Utahns currently not receiving traditional assistance can apply at the state’s Unemployment Insurance Claim Filing website.

Workers in the “gig economy,” those who are self-employed or do not otherwise qualify for traditional unemployment benefits, but have lost income because of the coronavirus can apply for assistance here: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced a “targeted” pandemic relief bill that would be voted on in the Republican-controlled Senate this week.

The bill focuses on the “very most urgent healthcare, education, and economic issues,” McConnell said in a statement. “I will be moving immediately today to set up a floor vote as soon as this week.”

The Senate bill costs around $500 billion — significantly smaller than $3 trillion HEROES Act that passed the House in May — and is not expected to survive the Democratic-led House, The Washington Post reported.

The bill also earmarks funding for the U.S. Postal Service — which is expected to play a large role in this November’s elections because of the increase of mail-in ballots — and would provide some pandemic liability protections for business.

In early August, McConnell called the HEROES Act a “massive far-left wish list.” The giant relief package includes a second round of economic stimulus checks, like the $1,200 many individuals received from the first aid package.

“Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-NY., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said in a joint statement Tuesday.

“This emaciated bill is only intended to help vulnerable Republican Senators by giving them a ‘check the box’ vote to maintain the appearance that they’re not held hostage by their extreme right-wing that doesn’t want to spend a nickel to help people,” they added.

President Donald Trump has previously said he would support another coronavirus response bill that would include a second round of stimulus checks to Americans.

Congress returned from their August recess this week.