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Unemployment Claims Slowing, Idahoans Losing 'Lost Wages' Income

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Initial unemployment claims in Idaho fell 4% last week, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. The state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

But the four-week average of new claims has remained steady, and more than 11,000 people remain on weekly unemployment benefits. Now, many unemployed Idahoans will no longer see a boost from federal pandemic benefits.

The CARES Act last spring provided an extra $600 a week to people unemployed because of the pandemic. That boost, which was in addition to regular unemployment benefits, expired July 31. That ‘Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation’ was replaced by the ‘Lost Wages’ benefit program, which Idaho was approved to participate in on August 19.

Governor Brad Little directed that program to cover unemployment claims made only during the month of August, providing an additional $300 benefit to everyone who qualified.

Federal funds were provided through the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), and Idaho’s Coronavirus FInancial Advisory Committee directed $15 million in state CARES Act funding toward the Lost Wages program as well, which covered all Idahoans regardless of base benefit amount. The federal program excluded anyone qualifying for less than $100 in base benefits per week; Idaho's minimum benefit is $72.

The Idaho Department of Labor says Idahoans received more than $41.5 million through the program, with the final payment (covering unemployment for the week-ending August 29) arriving last week.

Thursday, a spokeswoman for Governor Little gave no indication the program would be renewed or extended in Idaho, nor a confirmation that the program had been reviewed after its five-week run as the Governor previously said it would be.

By email, spokeswoman Marissa Morrison Hyer wrote, “The Governor announced that Idaho would pursue five weeks of benefits and the Department of Labor has successfully carried that out and provided assistance to many Idahoans. The state stands ready to work with our Congressional delegation on ensuring Idahoans have access to the resources they need while facilitating our full economic rebound.”

Additional questions to the Governor’s office about any extension or renewal of the program have not received a response.

Officials at the Department of Labor said they were unaware of any plans to renew or extend the extra benefit.

The Lost Wages program was funded at the federal level by only $44 billion dollars, an amount predicted to run out within two months. The amount of funding remaining in the program is unclear. Some states have been approved to pay the benefit through the week-ending September 5, but told that is the limit of available funding.

Meanwhile, people relying on unemployment benefits in Idaho, which range between $72-448 per week ($1.80-11.20/hour) will be forced to cope with significantly less financial assistance as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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