BOSTON — Hundreds of thousands of jobless workers in Massachusetts will be getting a little extra money in their weekly payments.

On Monday, the Baker administration said it has received approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute $300 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits to those who qualify.

The federal emergency employment benefits will be retroactive to Aug. 1. Those already receiving unemployment benefits don't have to reapply, the state Office of Labor and Workforce Development said in a statement.

The agency said it expects to "quickly deliver retroactive funds to eligible claimants in the coming weeks."

The additional payments were authorized by an executive order by President Donald Trump more than two weeks ago. He directed $44 billion in FEMA funds to extend unemployment aid and called on states to kick in roughly $15 billion.

Congress approved an enhanced unemployment benefit of $600 per week at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, but those payments were last issued on July 25. The federal aid was added to state unemployment benefits for those who qualify.

Trump issued his order as debate in Congress over whether to extend the benefits stalled amid partisan bickering over another coronavirus relief package.

Gov. Charlie Baker applied for the additional federal benefits for Massachusetts, but he remains critical of using FEMA funds, saying it diverts money that the state and local governments were already counting on to cover pandemic-related costs such as testing for COVID-19 and personal protective equipment.

The state's 17.4% unemployment rate is highest in the nation, according to federal data. More than 1 million jobless workers are collecting regular state unemployment benefits, as well as federal pandemic-related benefits intended to help those who cannot draw traditional unemployment.

Demand for benefits has nearly tapped out the state's unemployment fund, which totaled $1.7 billion last year, forcing the Baker administration to borrow money.

Critics say the $600 federal benefit created a disincentive for some employees to return to work because their total benefits were more than their paychecks.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

 

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