Jobless workers missed $17.6 billion in benefits in January after delayed stimulus deal

Denitsa Tsekova
·Reporter
·3 min read

Jobless workers saw their benefits significantly delayed last month because the stimulus deal in December was signed into law after key unemployment programs expired.

As much as $17.6 billion in unemployment benefits — or 38% less than what out-of-work Americans were due to receive — didn’t reach their bank accounts in January, an analysis by The Century Foundation found.

Read more: Here's who qualifies for the extra $100 in weekly unemployment benefits

“People are trying to pay their bills, put gas in their car, feed their families,” Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, told Yahoo Money. “Not having it for three, four, or five weeks is a really big challenge.”

Eleven U.S. states still haven't resumed paying benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, while 12 others took three weeks or more to restart payments. Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance
Eleven U.S. states still haven't resumed paying benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, while 12 others took three weeks or more to restart payments. Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) expired at the end of December but were renewed after Congress passed the most recent $900 billion stimulus package and then-President Trump signed it.

But the delay meant that the states had to restart the programs and implement new rules to add the extra $300 in weekly benefits stipulated by the relief package.

Read more: Here's what to do if you haven't gotten your stimulus check

The Treasury Department paid $28.7 billion in the first four weeks of January of the $46.1 billion that unemployed workers were eligible for at the time, the analysis found.

Most workers were able to get their benefits by the end of January. But 11 states still haven't resumed paying PUA benefits, while 13 haven’t started paying PEUC benefits as of January 31, the analysis found. Alaska, Connecticut, and Idaho are some of the states that didn’t start paying PUA or PEUC in January.

NEW YORK, Jan. 8, 2021 -- Pedestrians pass in front of the New York State Department of Labor building, in New York, United States, Jan. 8, 2021. U.S. employers slashed 140,000 jobs in December, the first monthly decline since April 2020, as the recent COVID-19 spikes disrupted labor market recovery, the Labor Department reported Friday.  The unemployment rate, which has been trending down over the past seven months, remained unchanged at 6.7 percent, according to the monthly employment report. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Michael Nagle via Getty Images)
Pedestrians pass in front of the New York State Department of Labor building, in New York, United States, Jan. 8, 2021. (Xinhua/Michael Nagle via Getty Images)

“The Northeast states, the Pacific states, and some in the upper Midwest got the benefits out quickly,” Stettner said. “Some of the states that have historically done the best for workers are doing the best right now.”

Around 1.1 million workers had to reapply for benefits because they exhausted their eligible weeks last year under the old unemployment rules. But they were still out of work in January 2021, when they again became eligible for benefits under the new stimulus deal, further delaying the delivery of those benefits, the analysis found.

‘Don't go into that red zone again’

Currently, many of those unemployment programs are set to expire on March 14 if no new stimulus deal is passed. Both President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan and a $618 billion stimulus proposal introduced by 10 GOP senators extend some of the jobless programs.

The Republican plan extends the extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits through June 30, while Biden’s proposal would increase that benefit to an additional $400 per week and extend the program through September. But the GOP proposal doesn’t mention extending the PUA or the PEUC programs, while Biden’s proposal would extend them both.

If any of those proposals are passed in time, another delay in unemployment benefits could be avoided.

“The next cliff should not be as bad if they’re able to pass the bill before the next deadline,” Stettner said. “It should be easier, especially if they don't go into that red zone again.”

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Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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