By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Americans who have lost their jobs due to the new coronavirus will start getting enhanced jobless benefits as soon as this week as states deploy hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid, state officials said on Tuesday.
Congress approved an additional $600 weekly payment for jobless workers as part of an unprecedented $2.3 trillion rescue package signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27.
It could take several weeks for that money to filter through federal and state bureaucracies into the bank accounts of many of the millions of Americans who have been thrown out of work.
Qualifying New York residents will see the additional benefit payments this week, said Deanna Cohen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor. In Missouri, payments will start going out as early as the week of April 12, according to the state Labor Department.
Officials in Maine and California said they have not yet figured out when they will be able to distribute the money. Other states did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The enhanced jobless aid, which totals $260 billion, aims to ensure that those who are thrown out of work do not see a big drop in income. It adds $600 per week to the payments jobless workers typically receive, which are a fraction of their previous pay.
State unemployment systems are struggling to keep up with the deluge of applicants as businesses across the country shut their doors to minimize the spread of the pandemic, which has killed more than 11,000 people and infected more than 375,000 across the United States.
Initial weekly jobless claims spiked to more than 6 million last week, nearly 10 times the previous record set in 1982. Applicants say they have encountered downed websites and long waits.
States will have to reprogram their computer systems to provide the new benefit, which could be a daunting task. More than half still rely on decades-old mainframe systems based on the COBOL language first introduced in 1959.
Others, such as Florida, have implemented new systems that have been plagued by glitches.
Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler.