State Officials Slam Feds for Ending an Unemployment Benefits Program | Off Message

State Officials Slam Feds for Ending an Unemployment Benefits Program

by

TIM NEWCOMB
  • Tim Newcomb
State officials on Saturday slammed the U.S. Department of Labor for removing Vermont from a federally funded unemployment insurance program that is currently providing payments to more than 800 Vermonters.

“For weeks, my Administration has called on the federal government to accept the bleak reality states are facing in combating this crisis and to act in support of its citizens, who were forced into unemployment through no fault of their own," Gov. Phil Scott said in a press release Saturday morning. "Instead, it appears it is turning its back on them."

"This decision comes at the height of a global pandemic, the middle of the holiday season and at the start of what will be a long winter," he said.



 The Extended Benefits program — which is unrelated to the two other federal unemployment programs that Congress created this spring to expand the social safety net amid the coronavirus pandemic — offers people who have already used up their 26 weeks of allotted state jobless benefits an additional 13 weeks of payments.

Only states with high reported unemployment rates are eligible for the program. Vermont's rate has steadily decreased since the summer, but state officials have argued that the way the feds calculate these figures — using surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau — misrepresents the actual number of people who are jobless.

Anticipating the state would trigger off the program this month, officials have repeatedly urged the U.S. Department of Labor to make an exception. But the department emailed state leaders Friday evening — at 5:52 p.m., the governor noted — to say the program would no longer be available in Vermont.

“We are extremely disappointed that the federal government has refused to recognize the real and distinct humanitarian crisis that this pandemic has created and instead is choosing to use outdated methodology resulting in benefits being cut for struggling Vermonters,” Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said in a press release.

According to Harrington's department, more than two dozen other states have triggered off the Extended Benefits program since the initial blizzard of unemployment claims earlier this year.

The 885 people enrolled in the program in Vermont as of the first week in December will now see their benefits expire December 19. And nearly 20,000 more Vermonters relying on two other pandemic unemployment programs could lose their benefits a week later if Congress does not move to extend them.

While negotiations inched forward last week, there is still no clear picture of whether a deal will come together before the deadline.

“Thousands of families are relying on these benefits to simply survive," Harrington said.