The Lost Wages Assistance Program that President Trump announced would help those who had lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, is up and running, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Trump “authorized FEMA to expend up to $44 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund for lost wage payments,” FEMA reported. FEMA has noted that the eligibility requirements are different for this program than they were for the previous supplements.
The Lost Wages Assistance program took effect as Democrats and Republicans in Congress continue to struggle to come up with legislation both parties can agree on.
You can read more about the background of the Lost Wages Assistance program here.
Which States Are Participating?
On its website, FEMA lists the following states as approved for the Lost Wages program: Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan, Maryland, Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and New Mexico.
FEMA also lists the eligibility for states on its webpage about the program. States are required to provide – among other things – a standard application for federal assistance, projections for how many claimants there will be based on the number of eligible people and the disclosure of lobbying activities. States are also required to indicate whether they will choose the $300 or $400 amount to make available to those eligible for the program; states that choose the $400 option will use $100 in state funds along with the $300 provided through FEMA.
States approved for the program will pay the supplemental lost wages retroactively, for the week ending August 1 – the same week that the supplemental $600 weekly benefits expired. Individuals are only considered eligible if they have already been receiving at least $100 per week in unemployment benefits; CNBC reported that 1 million low-income people could be considered ineligible due to this requirement.
The New York Times reported that the only state which has begun paying these benefits is Arizona; Arizona was one of the first states to receive grants for this program on February 15, 2020, according to the FEMA website. That same Times story reported that Montana was the only state to request $400.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said that because South Dakota had never shut down as a state, it had “recovered nearly 80 percent of the job losses associated with the coronavirus pandemic” and was declining to participate, the Times reported.
How Did Trump Get FEMA Involved?
In Trump’s August 8 memo about the Lost Wages program, he announced that FEMA, which typically assists states in moments of crisis associated with natural disasters, would be administering the payments.
Trump was able to select FEMA as the agency of distribution by employing the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which allows FEMA to be enlisted to assist states and localities during “Federal disaster response activities,” according to a definition from the FEMA webpage.
In the August 8 memo, Trump also called for all states to take advantage of the offer and also reiterated his intention to ensure benefits would be provided through to the end of the year, which he first announced, at a conference delivered on August 7.
I am calling on States to use amounts allocated to them out of the CRF (Coronavirus Relief Fund), or other State funding, to provide temporary enhanced financial support to those whose jobs or wages have been adversely affected by COVID-19. These funds, including those currently used to support State unemployment insurance programs, may be applied as the State’s cost-share with Federal DRF (Disaster Relief Fund) funds. To ensure that those affected by a loss in wages due to COVID-19 continue to receive supplemental benefits for weeks of unemployment ending no later than December 27, 2020, States should also identify funds to be spent without a Federal match should the total DRF balance deplete to $25 billion.
The $44 billion FEMA has been authorized to pay out is in addition to the $8.8 billion that FEMA already said it was pledging to spend on assisting during the pandemic.