The extra $600 many unemployed Massachusetts workers are seeing in their weekly benefits payment is scheduled to end this week.
Those filing unemployment claims for the week ending July 25th will actually see their last payment of $600 issued next week, according to a Baker administration official. That means hundreds of thousands of workers will soon have to get by on traditional unemployment, which in Massachusetts is usually about half a worker’s weekly wage.
Massachusetts had the highest unemployment rate in the nation in June. As of July 4th, there were about 530,000 Mass. workers collecting unemployment benefits, and more than 20,000 newly jobless workers are still filing initial unemployment claims each week.
Here’s what to know:
Why is the extra $600 per week expiring?
The federal CARES Act, passed back in March, included a program that added an extra $600 per week to the check of every worker collecting unemployment benefits. The money has proved to be a lifeline for many workers who were furloughed or laid off when state governments across the country imposed mandatory business closures.
But the added benefit was only approved for about four months, with the hope that the aggressive lockdown measures would slow the spread of the coronavirus and give the country enough time to implement measures ― like widespread testing and contact tracing ― that would allow businesses to reopen without risking a new surge, thus rehiring workers.
While some states have been able to reopen businesses, the coronavirus is spreading unchecked in others and has sparked a new round of shutdowns in states like Florida, Arizona, and California.
Across the nation, more than one million people every week are filing initial unemployment claims.
Will it be renewed?
That’s unclear. Congressional Republicans have argued that the extra cash has resulted in some low-wage workers being paid more than they were making before being laid off, and are calling for another round of stimulus checks to many Americans instead of $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits. Some Republicans are also pushing for a so-called “return-to-work bonus” that would give workers a check when they return to their jobs.
Democrats counter that a back to work bonus would do nothing to help workers who cannot return to their jobs because their workplace is shut down. House Democrats included an extension of the $600 per week benefit until January in the HEROES Act. But the bill has not been considered in the Senate.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that a bill being crafted by Senate Republicans could include a smaller enhancement of unemployment benefits, but the exact numbers are not yet known.
What happens if it isn’t renewed?
If the additional unemployment money is not extended by Congress, workers can still collect benefits, but their checks will be much smaller. In Massachusetts, which has among the most generous policies in the nation, unemployment benefits traditionally cover about half of a worker’s average weekly salary, with a maximum benefit of $823 per week. In other states, like Arizona and Florida, which have initiated new shutdowns, the weekly benefit is capped at less than $300.
One thing to keep in mind: Other provisions of the CARES Act, including one that allows independent contractors and other workers who do not traditionally qualify for unemployment benefits to receive payments, are not yet expiring.