By Brian Skinner, Esq.
During his August 10, 2020 briefing, Governor Justice announced that unemployed West Virginians would be eligible for up to $300 a week in additional unemployment benefits as a result of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Lost Wages Assistance Program. The program was authorized by President Trump in an executive memorandum that instructed FEMA to offer $300 a week in federally funded enhanced unemployment benefits for qualified claimants laid off during the coronavirus pandemic. The benefits were intended to assist unemployed workers who no longer were receiving $600 a week in enhanced benefits after the funds available under the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund expired. The governor indicated that the state would contribute an additional $100 to the weekly assistance.
On Friday, WorkForce West Virginia announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has ended the Lost Wages Assistance program and as a result, the agency is unable to extend the additional benefits beyond the benefits week ending on Sept. 5.
On Aug. 27, WorkForce West Virginia was awarded a grant that used $44 billion in FEMA Disaster Relief Funding to provide the additional $300 a week to eligible claimants starting on the benefits week ending on Aug. 1. WorkForce West Virginia says it will continue providing retroactive payments to eligible claimants from that week forward, in addition to regular state benefits and the extra $100 made available through the state's allocation from CARES Act.
At the time the president announced the program, it was unclear how long the additional benefits would last. Like many things undertaken by the Trump administration, the program turned out to be less than what was promised. According to the president’s directive, the aid was expected to run through Dec. 6. However, even at the time of the announcement, economists estimated that the $44 billion would cover only about five weeks of payments for most of the 30 million unemployed. The economists were correct. The much-hyped executive memorandum provided only five weeks of additional benefits. Benefits that were $200 less than what was provided by the CARES Act.
Other provisions of the CARES Act do not expire until Dec. 26, 2020, including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides an extra 13 weeks of benefits to workers who have exhausted regular state benefits, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides up to 46 weeks of benefits to self-employed workers or people who would not otherwise qualify for regular state benefits.
WorkForce West Virginia says it continues to encourage anyone who believes they may be eligible for unemployment benefits to file a claim online at www.workforcewv.org.
Brian is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He was also general counsel to the West Virginia State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. He has almost two-decades of experience as a strategic advisor and chief legal counsel to both executive and legislative branch public officials.