Coronavirus and the economy: US Rep. Richard Neal asks when feds will send money to process new unemployment claims
With nearly 10 million Americans — 330,000 Massachusetts residents among them — filing for unemployment in the last two weeks, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal is asking why the U.S. Department of Labor has yet to distribute emergency administrative funding so states can process the claims.
The Labor Department released new data on first-time unemployment claims Thursday.
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes up to $1 billion for each state. The money is meant to pay for additional administrative capacity and get unemployment insurance money into the hands of laid-off workers.
The federal government on Monday approved Massachusetts’ first allotment of funding in the amount of $12.9 million, according to Neal’s office.
In a letter Thursday to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Neal asked why some states are telling him they have not received the money. Neal, D-Springfield, chairman of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means, asked Scalia the following questions:
- When will the first $500 million in administrative funding be provided to all states?
- Which states have qualified for the additional $500 million and when will they receive it?
- When will the Department allow states to begin providing enhanced unemployment compensation to workers?
“Early on, we anticipated a rise in the need for unemployment compensation and provided additional funding for states to hire staff and upgrade systems to provide benefits quickly,” Neal wrote. “We also expected this immediate funding to help states quickly provide federal unemployment compensation authorized in (the CARES Act), in advance of states being reimbursed for administrative costs related to those benefits.”
On Thursday the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development outlined what it’s doing to handle the deluge of new applicants. The department said it:
- deployed more than 500 new employees, working remotely, to process claims through the online system
- made 34,000 return phone calls to applicants
- held virtual town halls in English and Spanish attended by more than 70,000 people
The state said it is waiting on the federal government for guidance on how to implement other portions of the CARE Act, including providing an additional $600 a week for all unemployment claimants and extending eligibility to the self-employed, those who have exhausted unemployment benefits and those who did not meet income thresholds.
Until that guidance is issued, benefits under the CARES Act are not available in Massachusetts, the state said.