Congress appears to be set to extend some badly needed pandemic relief benefits that are due to expire at the end of the year.
One of the biggest pieces of the legislation is an unemployment benefits extension.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and other unemployment programs for workers who had exhausted benefits or would otherwise not qualify, would continue to be funded through March 14 under the legislation. Funding had been scheduled to expire on December 27.
"We were going to have in the neighborhood of 150,000, people who were going to lose their benefits," said Dave Wells, policy director of the Grand Canyon Institute. Home - Grand Canyon Institute
He said legislators are hoping that extension buys time for the economy to recover sufficiently so "that folks can start moving into regular work again."
The deal also includes:
- $300 weekly unemployment supplements to regular unemployment and PUA payment
- One-time $600 direct payments to adults who made less than $75,000 if single and $150,000 if married
- One-time $600 direct payments for each qualifying child under 17-years-old
But some Arizonans are still waiting on benefits from the first round of CARES Act funds to be distributed.
Maulik Mistry, of Mesa, said while his family did receive the initial $1200 stimulus check, he has been attempting to collect PUA unemployment benefits through the Arizona Department since schools closed in March.
He was working as a substitute teacher and said after being denied for regular unemployment he filed for PUA when it became available. Mistry said he's been filing every week since and has never received a payment.
"I've tried to call. It refers me to the website. The website refers you back to calling in but there's all automated systems," he said. "There is no one live to be able to talk to."
Mistry who has diabetes is home with his son for online school, while his wife who has asthma is back to teaching in person.
He said with their medical bills a stimulus check won't last long.
"It's enough to buy some medications, but not enough to sustain or help," he said.
A group that is not addressed in the latest federal legislation are the underemployed.
"These folks have in general seen their hours cut from about 31 to 19 hours. And in this state, they don't qualify for anything," Wells said.
The Institute estimates 90,000 Arizonans fall into a category where they have gone back to work part-time and make too much to qualify for unemployment but not enough to pay their bills.
Wells said that could be corrected for most if Governor Ducey raised the earned income allowance--or the amount that unemployment recipients can earn before losing benefits--to $160 per week. Right now, people can earn $30 per week before unemployment benefits are subtracted dollar for dollar.
"The idea here is to reward people's efforts to try to maintain work and stay connected to employers, but not and not penalize them financially," Wells said.
The deal also includes a one-month extension of the moratorium on evictions enacted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) through January 31. As well as $25 billion for eviction prevention programs, of which the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Arizona will receive $484,518,000.