By William Patrick, The Center Square
An unemployment compromise will deliver an 11% maximum increase in unemployment benefits for out-of-work Louisianans, starting this week.
Gov. John Bel Edwards agreed to end federal unemployment benefits tied to COVID-19 relief funding five weeks early last year in exchange for the GOP-controlled Legislature’s commitment to permanently increase benefits at the state level.
The result was Act 276 and the first jobless benefit increase in more than a decade.
“We have one of the lowest unemployment benefit amounts in the country, and it’s been more than 10 years since we’ve raised the amount of money people can collect,” Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) Secretary Ava Cates said. “In that time, the cost of everything from gas to groceries has gone up.”
The new maximum weekly benefit is $275, an increase of $28 a week.
Cates said individuals filing a claim on or after Jan. 2 will see the increase. Claims filed Jan. 1 will be backdated to Dec. 26.
Cates said the timing of the change will require many recipients to reapply as Sunday marked the beginning of a new eligibility quarter.
“The first Sunday in every calendar quarter marks a change in the period of time used to determine eligibility for unemployment benefits based on wages,” she said.
Twenty-six states ended the $300-a-week federal unemployment enhancement before its scheduled expiration Sept. 6. Edwards was the only Democratic governor to do so, effective July 31.
Business groups, Republican lawmakers and other critics of the federal unemployment payments said the benefits discouraged workers from reentering the labor force.
A statement from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce during the compromise negotiations said the federal enhancement made sense when businesses were shut down during the pandemic, but not when the government-imposed lockdowns were lifted.
“The weekly payment, combined with state unemployment assistance, is currently the equivalent of almost $14 per hour, which is nearly median individual income in the state. In other words, one can be in the middle of the pack in terms of earnings by not working,” the statement said.
Legislative Democrats were split on the issue.
“I just can’t believe you’re doing this, turning down federal unemployment for people who have had the hardest year of their life,” Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, told her colleagues during debate on the floor.
Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, who sponsored House Bill 183, or what would become Act 276, said he had “heartburn” over the tradeoff but that “a permanent increase going forward is desperately needed.”