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Reed: Feds moving too slowly on $600 unemployment bonus, benefits expansion

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed on Thursday expressed frustration with U.S. Labor Department leaders for failing to quickly let states expand unemployment benefits as authorized by the $2 trillion rescue bill that Congress passed last week.

The bill, known as the CARES Act, included multiple provisions to make jobless payments more lucrative and more widely available. Those include giving all beneficiaries an extra $600 a week through July 31 and creating a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that would cover independent contractors, self-employed individuals and others who can’t sign up for traditional unemployment insurance.

The R.I. Department of Labor and Training, like its sister agencies in other states, has been inundated with questions about how laid-off workers can sign up for the new benefits. Nearly 12,000 people had signed up as of Thursday evening for a mailing list DLT has created to provide updates once information is available.

However, DLT spokesperson Angelika Pellegrino confirmed that federal officials still had not provided the required guidance to state labor agencies as of Thursday afternoon that would allow them to start paying out the $600 bonus and programming computer systems to sign up workers for the new temporary COVID-19 benefits program.

In a statement Thursday, Reed called on the Trump administration to work faster. “The entire goal of the CARES Act is to help those in need quickly,” he said, noting that the bill passed the Senate unanimously.

According to Reed’s office, the extra $600 a week and other CARES Act benefits should be retroactive once the federal government allows the states to move forward.

“For the good of the country, the Trump administration needs to pull it together quickly, drop the ideology worries, and get these benefits out the door and into the hands of Americans who need them,” Reed said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Labor Department did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

On Thursday evening, U.S. Labor Department Assistant Secretary John Pallasch distributed a 13-page document to state labor agencies with information about the CARES Act. But Pellegrino said it did not include the specific guidelines DLT would need to begin awarding the additional benefits authorized by the new law.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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