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New Unemployment Benefits Coming To Wisconsinites After Latest COVID-19 Relief Approved

DWD Unable To Give Timeline For Launch Of Latest Benefits

The Department of Labor's headquarters in Washington.
In this May 6, 2020, photo, a sign stands outside the Department of Labor’s headquarters in Washington. A government watchdog has found that the Labor Department’s widely watched weekly unemployment benefits data are providing an inaccurate reading on the number of newly laid off workers because of flaws in the government’s data collection. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

A series of new unemployment benefits are set to become available to Wisconsinites after President Joe Biden signed the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief into law Thursday.

The plan includes an extension of enhanced unemployment benefits through Sept. 6 and increases the amount of weeks unemployment recipients are eligible for different unemployment programs.

The state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) said Friday it is awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and is unable to give a timeline for when the new benefits will be available.

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“Similar to the (second round of federal COVID-19 relief), there will be nuances in this new bill that will affect how they interact with state and federal law,” said DWD spokesperson Grace Kim in an email. “Like in the past, DWD will gather information and get guidance from U.S. DOL on requirements for program implementation and testing.”

Currently, DWD is still in the process of implementing new unemployment benefits signed into law in December as part of the second round of federal relief. As of March 12, the department has launched two of the four new benefits made available under that plan, with the remaining two expected to launch in late April.

Chenon Times-Rainwater, co-founder of the Wisconsin Unemployment Action Group, said she expects some delays, but having consistent aid for the next several months will be a sigh of relief for many of those still unable to find work.

“People are slowly realizing that, ‘OK, I know I’m going to have to wait for them but when they do come, I’m going to be able to breath for a little bit,” Times-Rainwater said.

Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation think tank, similarly stressed the importance of having benefits that people can count on for an extended period of time.

“It’s really important that we’ve locked them in, at least through the end of the summer,” Stettner said. “The rollout of the vaccine means that jobs will start to become available, but it really hasn’t happened yet.”

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) is a supplement to weekly unemployment insurance that increases a recipients’ weekly benefits. Earlier in the pandemic the supplement was $600 a week, but in the second round of federal relief the supplement dropped to $300 a week.

With the signing of the American Rescue Plan, the $300 weekly supplement will continue through the week ending Sept. 4 in Wisconsin. That means the supplement will be added on top of recipients’ weekly state-level benefits, which average about $290 a week.

In the second round of federal relief, the $300 FPUC supplement was set to expire the week ending March 14. It remains unclear if Wisconsinites will experience a delay in receiving the continued $300 weekly supplement, and if so, how long that delay will last.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) extends the amount of time someone can receive unemployment. When the program was created by Congress in March, it allowed for a total of 13 weeks of benefits under the program. In the second round of federal COVID-19 relief, an additional 11 weeks of benefits were granted for a total of 24 weeks of coverage.

In the latest legislation signed into law Thursday, another 29 weeks of benefits were granted to those eligible for the program, meaning Wisconsinites can receive a maximum of 53 weeks of benefits under PEUC through Sept. 4.

DWD began paying out PEUC benefits created in the second round of federal relief on March 4. Those benefits expire March 14, and it’s unclear if those receiving them will experience a lapse in payment, and if so, how long the lapse will last.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a program that allows workers not typically eligible for unemployment, like self-employed and contract workers, to receive jobless benefits.

Previously, the maximum amount of coverage under the PUA program was 50 weeks. Now, eligible Wisconsinites will be able to receive a maximum of 79 weeks of benefits under the program through Sept. 4 in Wisconsin.

DWD has not finished implementing extended PUA benefits created under the second round of federal COVID-19 relief. The department has said it expects to launch that program on April 21.

It’s unclear how the passage of new PUA benefits will affect that timeline, if at all.

Taxes On Unemployment Payments

In the latest round of federal coronavirus aid, Congress provided tax relief to out-of-work Americans who relied on unemployment and, because of the large unemployment supplement in 2020, may have seen a surprisingly large tax bill.

In the American Rescue Plan, the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits are exempted from federal income taxes under two conditions: the benefits must have been received in 2020; and your household income must be less than $150,000, according to The Century Foundation.

This provision extends to benefits received under standard state-level unemployment benefits and federal pandemic unemployment benefits.