WASHINGTON — Out-of-work Americans may see only a three-week boost to their unemployment benefits, as state and federal officials scramble to stretch out a limited pot of money and implement President Trump’s recent policy order.

The Trump administration offered the new details about its directive Monday, pledging additional aid would reach workers in a matter of weeks – even as its guidance quickly rekindled criticism that the White House’s actions alone are insufficient to help people weather the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic.

Under Trump’s order, the U.S. government aims to front the money for jobless Americans who would get at least an extra $300 in weekly payments. The dollars will come from a federal disaster relief fund managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will initially dispatch an amount to the states meant to cover three weeks’ worth of payments, the Trump administration said.

About 30 million workers had been receiving $600 in extra jobless benefits from the federal government until the end of July, when a stimulus program expired amid congressional bickering. Democrats and Republicans continued to quarrel over a possible reauthorization into August, when Trump signed his directive, which some economists predicted could last about five weeks.

On Monday, FEMA said the additional weeks of aid depend on the amount remaining in the federal disaster relief program, which has capped the new unemployment initiative at $44 billion. The Trump administration did not specify an exact date as to when the money would reach workers, but FEMA said in its guidance that it anticipated it could take an “average” of three weeks from when Trump first signed his directive – perhaps putting some of those first payments around Aug. 29.

Many states have warned in recent days they face the prospect of immense delays as they race to upgrade their computer systems to implement Trump’s order. Others state unemployment officials have said they fear the program’s confusing criteria may prevent them from sending any new aid at all.


“It’s just more uncertainty for workers at a time when uncertainty is a bad idea,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Center.

FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In recent days, states including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and West Virginia have signaled they are likely to try to get the limited, additional unemployment payments to their out-of-work residents, with dozens others expected to follow suit. This weekend, FEMA said Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, and New Mexico each had agreed to provide the benefits to residents as well.

Only one state, South Dakota, has outright declined the aid: Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said last week that local workers did not need the help, citing improvements to the state’s economy.

Signing the order earlier this month, Trump touted that jobless Americans could see a $400 boost to their weekly checks. But the amount is actually contingent on states supplying a quarter of the funds on their own dime, a burden some governors have said they cannot bear at a time when the coronavirus is cutting deeply into their budgets – forcing them to cut their budgets, rather than spend more, in the absence of more support from Washington.

On Capitol Hill, the prospect that the president’s order may only result in a few short weeks of aid incensed Democrats, who blamed Republicans for failing to come to an agreement on a new round of coronavirus relief. The two parties have been at odds for months, in part because GOP lawmakers contend the $600 payments that Congress authorized as part of the Cares Act in March had deterred people from returning to work. Democrats, however, see the payments as essentially to keeping the economy afloat.

“Donald Trump said workers would receive benefits quickly, but they will wait a month or longer,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. in a statement. “Bills will pile up, and families will go hungry, falling further behind on the rent and unable to buy medicines.”

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