As Congress dithers over providing funding for the second round of pandemic relief unemployment benefits and President Trump issues an executive order usurping Congress, that might well be successfully challenged, Washington state’s Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine remains on edge.
She has reason to be stressed. And so, too, should Washingtonians in need of COVID-19 unemployment benefits.
The state’s unemployment system needs at least four to five months to begin providing additional jobless benefits if the amounts are based on a percentage of individual incomes, as is being discussed in Congress, LeVine said.
Even if it’s a flat rate of $400 a week, as Trump’s executive order calls for, it will still take weeks or months to roll out, and that’s if there are no tweaks.
That means that even if the Democrat-led House and the Republican-led Senate can come to an agreement on how to extend COVID-19 unemployment benefits this month, they might not be available until 2021.
In reality, any change to benefits would take weeks if not months to be adopted by the state and put into action.
“It’s like rolling out a new benefit. It’s like a whole new system,” LeVine said.
And that is likely the scenario in the other 49 states and U.S. territories.
Congress and the White House must take the time lag of getting the COVID-19 relief benefits to the people into consideration.
“Please note that these estimates are based on a smooth and clear process with clear guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor,” LeVine wrote in a memo to the Washington state congressional delegation. “That is not a safe assumption, especially since we have already seen that.”
Since the CARES Act was approved in March, the Department of Labor has issued 18 different guidance updates, she said.
Democrats in the U.S. Capitol claim the Republicans are playing partisan games, and Republicans contend it is the Democrats who are playing politics.
Both are right.
Partisanship abounds in the nation’s capital, and it has for centuries. It’s the status quo.
But this is a national crisis, and it could be made worse if the political shenanigans can’t be overcome.
The House and Senate need to be willing to compromise, come up with a plan that is acceptable (not necessarily perfect), and get a new aid package approved. And then stick with it.
It needed to be done yesterday.