While Congress continues to mull over potential help in another stimulus plan, some Americans are still waiting for the help that was promised back in December under the last stimulus package.
In December’s stimulus package, Congress promised a $300 enhancement in benefits for those on unemployment and at least 11 more weeks of unemployment benefits for the millions who lapsed out of the system.
“It’s been seven weeks; I haven’t been paid in seven weeks,” explained Kara Gray, who lives in Ohio.
Gray is among thousands in her state who are still fighting to receive those new unemployment benefits that were promised months ago.
“I feel like they almost try to make it seem like we are lazy and trying to take advantage of some awesome situation, like this is an amazing position to be in,” Gray added.
Before the pandemic, Gray and her husband had a newly thriving family business, DeSure Construction and Remodeling. However, when construction was halted for social-distancing needs, they were out of work. On top of that, they decided it would be best to stay out of work to protect their immunocompromised daughter.
“We had like $18,000 saved up at the beginning of the pandemic--to buy a house and add to our savings--and I had to go through all of that money,” said Gray.
The family’s savings ran out completely about 4 weeks ago, meaning they would’ve been just barely getting by if there wasn’t this new round of unemployment benefit delays.
“Now, I am behind on credit cards,” said Gray. "That is not just hurting us financially, but now, if I want to get a business loan or we were going to buy a house, my credit is going down.”
According to research by the Century Foundation, almost every state had a two-week delay on implementing the new unemployment benefits passed in December. Roughly two dozen states had delays of three weeks or more and a dozen are still struggling to get the December unemployment benefits out to those in need.
“The states have essentially rolled people off the benefit and they had to roll them back on and there are verifications and steps that need to be taken to make that happen,” said Andrew Stettner. “States are having real trouble with their technology.”
Stettner is a senior fellow with the Century Foundation. He explained there are two main reasons for the delay.
The first is fraud by mostly foreign scammers. Some estimates report the U.S. has lost upwards of $200 billion in unemployment claim fraud. So, to combat false claims states have implemented, more verification steps in the unemployment application process.
The second cause of benefit distribution delays was caused by the timing of the last stimulus package. The last package was signed by then-President Donald Trump, after key measures in the previous stimulus package lapsed. So, the new unemployment rules, when passed, had to be inputted into old antiquated systems. Only then could those systems slowly start processing and paying out. States with the oldest systems are taking the longest.
The big question now: will this Congress also wait until the very last minute or later to pass the next stimulus measure?
“I think this time Congress in keenly aware of this problem. Certainly, the leadership up to the President want to avoid these kinds of lapses again,” said Stettner. “They understand that means passing and having the President sign a bill before, and preferably one or two or three weeks, before the deadline.”
To avoid another lapse and delay in benefits, Congress has to pass a new stimulus package by March 14. That is when unemployment benefits will start to expire again, and even more people could start to experience what Kara Gray and her family have.
“My husband is really talented, and I know we will be OK,” said Gray. "I just worry about so many other people who are not OK, who don’t have a support system, and they haven’t gotten paid.”