NBC 5 Responds: Extra $600 Federal Unemployment Benefits Expire this Week

Lawmakers Haven't Agreed on Next Steps as Unemployment Remains High

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By the end of this week, unemployed Texans will see a dramatic drop in benefits when a supplemental federal benefit of $600 a week expires.

The federal CARES Act provided an additional $600 weekly unemployment benefit through July 31 unless Congress passes legislation to extend the benefits.

Actual payments end July 25 for most states, including Texas, because the CARES Act requires the subsidy to end on or before July 31. States pay benefits on a weekly calendar and due to administrative rules, end those payments before the 31.

“There are some questions about why not the 31. The reason is it’s a Friday and the Texas Workforce Commission, by law, can not pay partial week benefits. A full benefit week begins on a Sunday and ends on Saturday,” said Cisco Gamez with the Texas Workforce Commission.

As of Wednesday, lawmakers in Congress have not agreed on the next steps – leaving millions wondering how they’ll manage bills as the economy continues to suffer in the pandemic.

“I’m looking for a position, but I know a lot of the companies are just not hiring right now,” said Penny Murphy of Quinlan.

Murphy says she receives the maximum benefit of $1,121 a week - including the $600 supplemental federal benefit.

Without the extra federal benefits, Murphy’s maximum benefit falls to $521 a week.

“What am I going to do? I still have a car payment, a house payment, land payment,” said Murphy. “And, I’m not the only one.”

Food banks have been sounding the alarm about the financial cliff families face in a matter of days at a time when a federal eviction moratorium also ends this month.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission reports a surge in applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits. The agency reports more than $632 million in emergency benefits to just over 3.4 million families between April and June.

The Texas Workforce Commission explains it’s up to Congress to continue to supplement state benefits, though a combination of state and federal actions mean Texans can stay on unemployment longer.

Regular unemployment benefits in Texas provide for up to 26 weeks of benefits during a benefit year. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and State Extended Benefits, triggered during an economic downturn, increase the eligibility period to up to 59 weeks

“There’s still a lot of options for receiving benefits,” said Gamez. “They might not have the additional $600 weekly benefits added to it, but there are a lot of opportunities for some people they could potentially get up to 59 weeks of benefits.”

Gamez added unemployment benefits are intended to provide help during a transitional period, not replace a paycheck.

The average unemployment benefit paid out in Texas is $349 a week, according to the TWC.

“It will create a financial crisis for my family,” said Murphy – who is increasingly concerned unemployed families are forgotten by lawmakers.

As Congress debates another potential stimulus package, some have questioned whether extending the federal unemployment benefit payments do more harm to the economy by offering an incentive for people to remain unemployed.

Murphy says she’s dutifully looking for a job in her field of property management, even tracking her work searches, though they are not currently required by the Texas Workforce Commission. Still, she’s had no luck landing a job.

“It doesn’t matter whether I’m a Republican, Democrat or in between. It matters that people’s lives are being put on hold because of this pandemic and that people are struggling,” said Murphy.

NBC 5 Responds reached out to every member of North Texas’ Congressional Delegation. Out of 12 lawmakers in the delegation, six responded.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s office tells NBC 5 Responds Senator Cornyn supports extending unemployment assistance for Texans impacted by the pandemic as part of the next relief bill.

From the Office of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz:  Sen. Cruz has said the next relief package should focus on tax reform and regulatory proposals – including a payroll tax cut – in order to help the millions of small businesses safely reopen and rehire their employees, as well as focus on providing more opportunities for both K-12 students and blue-collar workers, as his federal tax credit bill would do. Sen. Cruz has also introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at increasing access to healthcare, including the Pandemic Healthcare Access Act, which would expand access to Health Savings Accounts to anyone with a health plan for the duration of this public health crisis. These commonsense reforms will go a long way in helping the American people overcome the severe economic and public health crises we are facing. The bottom line is that we need to get our economy back on its feet, and we won’t do that if we extend what were intended to be overly generous federal benefits that pay people more to stay at home than safely return to work.

U.S. Representative Marc Veasey: If this benefit runs out, nearly 1.3 million workers in Texas will lose over half their weekly income at the beginning of August and that is completely unacceptable for North Texans that have depended on this vital relief during this pandemic. My Democratic colleagues and I have fought to protect working families by advancing the Heroes Act in May that would enhance unemployment benefits. I implore Republicans to stop their obstruction on this legislation and start working to get Americans the relief they need before it is too late.

U.S. Representative Van Taylor: I know Texans face uncertainty about their future and are need of assistance to help them weather this pandemic. That’s why I’ve supported several legislative packages to provide historic relief to Collin County families and individuals while also addressing the healthcare infrastructure and testing concerns facing our nation. There is no doubt Collin County families need support and I will continue working in a bipartisan manner to deliver much-needed help directly to the workers, businesses, and families in need.

U.S. Representative Colin Allred: We are facing an unprecedented crisis with so many North Texans without work and bills are still piling up. That’s why we must provide continued support to those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Economic relief during a pandemic should not be a partisan issue. I voted to extend these expanded unemployment benefits with passage of the Heroes Act in May, and I urge the Senate to extend these benefits as soon as possible.

U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson: I am very concerned with the Senate’s inability to pass additional coronavirus relief legislation in a timely manner. As Leader McConnell lets the bills pile up on his desk, real people, including my constituents, are suffering.

Crucial benefits will begin to lapse in a few days from now. The states are looking to the federal government for assistance, and Senate Republicans are failing them.

According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, their inaction has resulted in the loss of more than 350,000 jobs in Texas alone. This means an additional 5 million workers will be seeking unemployment benefits but will instead find themselves empty handed.

A bipartisan deal on relief is not unprecedented — with my support, the House passed the CARES Act in March. This bill contained vital provisions that included a $600 per month addition to monthly unemployment insurance. This additional funding was critical throughout April and May as the people of this country came together to flatten the curve of the novel COVID-19 virus. With cases on the rise once again and Senate Republicans refusing to extend these benefits, frontline workers and thousands of others are at risk of dying.

It is my hope that the Senate Republican Leadership will come to terms with the gravity of the situation around the country soon. My colleagues and I are waiting for them to join the negotiating table.

U.S. Representatives Lance Gooden, Ron Wright, Kay Granger, Kenny Marchant, Roger Williams and Michael Burgess did not reply to questions from NBC 5 Responds about additional federal unemployment benefits expiring.

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