There’s a ticking time bomb facing unemployed Vermont workers who have been relying upon federally funded pandemic benefits: Those programs are expected to run out of money at the end of the calendar year.
Gov. Phil Scott is concerned about that, and has reached out to the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s office as well as the state’s congressional delegation, he said during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing.
Vermont can’t make up for the coming shortfall of federal dollars on its own, Scott and Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said.
“We don’t have the resources,” Scott said. “We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars every single week.”
While the state still has about $250 million in its unemployment insurance fund, that money can’t be used to defray the cost of the expiring federal programs, Scott said. He’s hoping that Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor take action to prevent a financial catastrophe.
Many other states are in the same situation, Scott said, and he’s been working with other governors as well as the state’s congressional delegation.
While the state is reporting an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, there are thousands of Vermonters who were out of work before the pandemic began and have not rejoined the workforce since.
The state reported an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in October, a good deal lower than the national rate of 6.9 percent for the same time period.
Like many states, Vermont pays unemployment benefits for 26 weeks out of its unemployment insurance trust fund. But in the pandemic, the federal government has been paying additional funds through a pair of programs: Pandemic Unemployment Insurance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. But both programs are set to expire at the end of December.
Scott expressed frustration with the federal government’s inability to solve the problem. The U.S. House and Senate have not been able to agree on a relief package, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has refused to take up additional relief passed by the House in May.
“It’s really important for Congress to take action, make the best deal they can and do what’s right for the people,” Scott said. “Just as a stopgap measure. There’s a number of initiatives they should be working on right now. I’m pleading with them to get back to work.”
In the meantime, with benefits set to expire the last week of December, those who are facing the end of benefits and able to work should be looking, Harrington said — and the state stands ready to help them at the Department of Labor’s web page.
“If anyone out there wants to work and can work, please reach out to us,” Harrington said, “Go to our job link page and see what’s there. “