Gov. Edwards: Unemployed residents will be eligible for $300 unemployment benefit enhancement

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

White House officials say Louisiana residents who are unemployed will be able to get an extra $300 in weekly benefits, even though Louisiana cannot afford to make the state’s $100 match, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday.

The federal government had been enhancing state benefits by $600 per week, though that program ended at the end of last month. President Donald Trump has declared a partial extension by executive order, though it is unclear if the president has that authority.

The executive order proposes a $300 federal enhancement, with the opportunity for states to add another $100 using funds left over from the CARES Act benefit package approved in late March. Louisiana already has allocated its CARES Act money to pay for state and local government responses to COVID-19, to reimburse small businesses for COVID-19-related expenses, and to give $250 one-time payments to frontline workers.

The federal benefit would be retroactive to Aug. 1. Edwards said he does not know when the money will be available.

It was unclear at first whether Louisiana residents who are being paid less than $100 per week in state benefits would be eligible for the new enhancement. Edwards said Thursday that they will be, though distributing the money will require some tweaks to the state’s system that the vendor is working on now.

Under the White House plan, the additional benefits would be paid for with $44 billion in disaster relief funds overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that usually are used for natural disasters. The money is expected to last about five weeks.

Edwards continues to push for federal help to shore up the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which currently contains about $230 million compared to more than $1 billion before the COVID-19 pandemic began. To replenish the fund, state government is nearing the point where it will be forced to either raise taxes on businesses or borrow money from the federal government and imposing fees on businesses to pay back the loan.

The governor also is asking the federal government to continue full funding for National Guard deployments in the COVID-19 response through the end of the year. Federal officials have said they will continue to do so for Texas and Florida but are asking other states to come up with a 25 percent match, which would cost Louisiana about $10 million, Edwards said.

As of noon Thursday, at least 4,279 Louisiana residents with COVID-19 had died, the state health department reported.

Though Black residents, who make up about 32 percent of the state’s population, comprise more than 48 percent of the deaths, slightly more white residents have been killed according to the latest count. A few months ago, almost 70 percent of the people with the illness who had died were Black.

There were 1,281 COVID-19 patients in hospitals Thursday, and 196 of them were on ventilators.