Feds approve RI for $300 weekly unemployment boost; state will not contribute extra $100


WASHINGTON (WPRI) – Rhode Islanders collecting unemployment benefits could see a $300 boost added to their weekly payout in less than a month, but the extra benefits could run out quickly, according to state officials.

The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) said Saturday it would likely take up to three weeks to implement the Lost Wages Grant program, after which time the payments would be disbursed automatically. DLT spokesperson Margaux Fontaine said the initial round of grant money would provide Rhode Island with enough funding to cover the additional $300 for three weeks.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Saturday it had approved Rhode Island’s application to provide the weekly bonus to those who are unemployed due to COVID-19. The news comes after the DLT told WPRI 12 that the state would submit its application for the latest round of federal grant money by close of business Thursday.

Fontaine said Rhode Island cannot provide the optional $100 state contribution on top of the $300 being funded by FEMA. She said the payments would be retroactive to August 1.

Rhode Island now joins 19 other states, including Massachusetts, that have been approved to receive a piece of $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund. President Trump signed executive memoranda on Aug. 8 designating the money to go toward additional financial assistance to unemployed Americans. FEMA announced Massachusetts’ approval on Friday night.

When asked at her weekly coronavirus briefing on Wednesday why Rhode Island hadn’t yet applied, Gov. Gina Raimondo contended “there’s nothing to apply for,” and said the federal government needed to provide additional guidance about the grant program.

“We don’t yet know how it would work, how much we’d be eligible to receive, who would be eligible,” Raimondo said Wednesday. “We’re all just waiting for the Trump administration to put out some guidelines.”

Less than 24 hours later, Fontaine told WPRI 12 the agency had subsequently had “productive conversations” and planned to submit an application by close of business Thursday.

The new round of bonus jobless aid comes after a $600 weekly boost expired at the end of July. That program was included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that Congress enacted early in the pandemic. Right now lawmakers on Capitol Hill remain at odds over passage of another relief bill.

According to FEMA, states can provide the supplemental payments to anyone that’s eligible for at least $100 per week in unemployment benefits as of the week of August 1.

This story has been updated.

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