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Ducey reviewing Trump's offer on unemployment benefits, isn't committing

Ducey reviewing Trump's offer on unemployment benefits, isn't committing

  • Updated

PHOENIX — Arizonans whose enhanced jobless benefits ran out this week may get a chance for some additional cash — but it will depend on Gov. Doug Ducey.

Aides to the governor confirmed Monday he is reviewing the offer by President Trump to provide an extra $400 a week in payments if the state picks up $100 of that.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said states can use money they already received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to provide their match. Ducey had previously set aside some of the CARES dollars the state received.

But it’s not that simple, said Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff. He said Ducey needs more information before committing the state and its resources to additional jobless aid.

“The governor is very thankful to the president,” he said. “We’re digging into the details and figuring out what the art of the possible is.”

Scarpinato said Ducey “does want to help Arizonans who have been put out of work through no fault of their own.”

One detail Ducey wants figured out first is how much it would cost the state.

Scarpinato had no firm figures. But Dave Wells, research director for the Grand Canyon Institute, penciled out the price tag of Arizona’s share at about $65 million a week.

“We’ve got to crunch the numbers,” Scarpinato said.

Another question is: Can Ducey simply reallocate the funds by himself for jobless benefits or does he need legislative approval?

“We’re doing our homework,” is all Scarpinato would say.

Even if Ducey goes along, questions also remain about when the new checks would arrive — and how long they would keep coming.

The president’s latest action comes after congressional authorization for the extra $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation ran out last week. When federal lawmakers could not reach a deal, Trump signed a memo with the $400 figure and the 25% match.

At last count there were about 260,000 Arizonans receiving regular state unemployment benefits, which are capped at $240 a week. That does not include another 440,000 who are collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a special program for those, such as the self-employed, ineligible for regular state benefits.

On paper, the new program is supposed to apply retroactively to Aug. 1, right after the $600 benefits expired. But there is no clear guidance from Washington about when the money will be available.

There also are uncertainties about how quickly the state Department of Economic Security can convert its current programming — which ran into repeated problems with the current jobless crush — to deal with the new benefits.

Trump’s plan is to take the cash from the federal Disaster Relief Fund, which currently has about $70 billion. According to the presidential order, the additional payments will last until the fund is drawn down to $25 billion, or Dec. 6, whichever comes first.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates there’s only enough in the account to provide benefits for five weeks, essentially through the end of August. The Grand Canyon Institute came up with a similar projection.

Even just that delay, however, could provide some breathing room for Congress and the president to come up with a deal.

When talks broke down, Democrats were insistent on keeping the $600 a week. Republicans countered with $200 a week through the end of September, with benefits equal to 70% of what people were making for the balance of the year.

Then there’s the legal question of whether Trump has the authority to simply redirect the dollars from the Disaster Relief Fund.

At this point there are no legal challenges.

Not everyone who has been getting the extra jobless benefits would benefit.

Trump’s directive specifically excludes anyone who is not getting at least $100 a week in state jobless benefits.

That means it may provide no real help to the people who were in the lowest-paid jobs, including people whose compensation largely included tips.

There was no immediate response from the Department of Economic Security as to how many of those 260,000 Arizonans currently collecting basic jobless benefits might be ineligible with that threshold.

But about 6% of regular unemployment insurance recipients receive less than that $100 cutoff, Eliza Forsythe, a labor economist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, estimated in a Twitter post.

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