Starting last week, unemployed Tennesseans eligible for a federal Lost Wages Assistance program began to see extra deposits in their accounts — $300 per week for up to the first three weeks of August.
Now, dozens of unemployed people are flooding online forums with questions: Will the federal grant benefits last longer than three weeks? And if so, when will they see the money in their accounts?
The answers depend on the approval and processing times of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the Tennessee department of labor.
The FWA grant program is fueled by $44 billion in FEMA funds, and the grant will terminate once that money is exhausted, a time frame that depends on how many states apply for the funds and how many unemployed individuals qualify to receive the grant in those states.
Tennessee received $236 million from FEMA on Aug. 24, enough to pay each eligible Tennesseans the extra $300 per week in retroactive benefits for the first three weeks of August. The Tennessee department of labor must apply for additional funding on a week-to-week basis, according to department spokesman Chris Cannon.
State must apply for each week of funding; payments could come weeks later
The department has filed its first extension application for funding to cover the week ending Aug. 22, but it is not yet clear how long it will take FEMA to process the request, Cannon wrote in an email to The Tennessean Wednesday.
Beyond the first three weeks of August, the state’s department of labor will need to determine the amount of funding necessary to make payments for each week, and submit an application to FEMA for those funds.
Once FEMA approves the request, it may take one to two weeks or more for the funds to come through. Retroactive payments will be made “in a matter of days after the state receives funding,” Cannon wrote.
The department stated on its Facebook page Tuesday that the program could last a total of 7 weeks before the federal funds are exhausted.
Who is eligible to receive these funds?
For those who are eligible for the extra benefits, the difference is substantial. Since the federal $600 per week unemployment supplement authorized by the CARES Act terminated in July, unemployed Tennesseans have received the state’s usual unemployment benefits, which are capped at $275 per week.
The grant program provides an extra $400 in weekly benefits, but $100 of that amount must be contributed by the state. Each state can choose whether to match the $100 using additional funds or count the unemployment benefits paid through the state unemployment system for the match.
Because Tennessee chose to use benefits it already pays to count for the required $100 match, not all unemployed Tennesseans are eligible for the grant funds.
To be eligible for the $300 weekly benefit, unemployed Tennesseans must be out of work due to COVID-19 and qualify for a weekly minimum of $100 in state unemployment benefits from one of the following:
- Tennessee Unemployment Compensation
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
- Extended Benefits payments
How does Tennessee issue payments?
Unemployed individuals will only receive $300 per week for the weeks that they are eligible and have completed their weekly certification, meaning that individuals who were eligible for only two of the first three weeks of August would receive $600 instead of $900, for example. The state will automatically issue payments to eligible individuals.
This means the maximum amount eligible Tennesseans can receive each week is $575 (not including federal tax withholding) — a maximum of $275 under state benefits plus the $300 federal supplement.
Payments can coincide with regular unemployment benefit payments if the state receives funding from FEMA at the beginning of the week. If funding is granted at the end of the week, the extra benefit payments may be made separately. Payments that are separate from weekly benefits will not appear on the payment summary on eligible individuals’ dashboards.
People who were eligible for each of the first three weeks of August should receive one retroactive payment in a lump sum totaling $900 (without federal tax withholding), Cannon stated. Those who receive less may not have been eligible for all three weeks. The department anticipates this first round of funds should be distributed by the end of this week.
Reach Cassandra Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.