FEMA Unemployment Benefits: How Long Does the Program Last

There are a lot of questions up in the air when it comes to the temporary unemployment enhancement in President Donald Trump's recent executive order, including how long the payments will last. The executive order called for the "lost wages assistance" program to last through Dec. 6, but for each individual recipient, it will likely last only about three weeks. The program has some quirks in place to ensure that as many Americans as possible are eligible at some point.

States must formally apply for the lost wages assistance program in Trump's executive order and meet certain criteria to be approved. According to a report by CNBC, approval only guarantees them three weeks' worth of funding. This measure is "in order to ensure that funding remains available for the states who apply for the grant assistance." The program is drawing money from FEMA's disaster aid fund, and has a strict cap of $44 billion. When that runs out, so does the unemployment bonus.

This means that desperate Americans are likely to get a total of $900 from the lost wages assistance program, depending on when their state applies and qualifies. The order claims that it will provide a bonus of $400 per week as long as states provide 25 percent of that money, but now states are allowed to count their baseline unemployment payments as part of that funding, so the program only adds $300 in total.

On Saturday, four states became the first to qualify for the lost wages assistance program: Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and New Mexico. Even for them, it is not clear when they will start to receive the money. The Washington Post reported that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the benefits will be distributed "immediately." At the same time, however, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNN that it could take a few weeks to get the payments out.

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The program must take its time in order to conserve its funding, especially given the current state of stimulus check negotiations. The lost wages assistance program could go until December, but it would end as soon as the Senate and Congress agree on an alternative in a new stimulus package. Since those talks have stalled, the White House must plan for the worst.

While desperate Americans are eager for assistance, many are also concerned about the impact this will have on FEMA. The lost wages assistance program will take FEMA's disaster relief aid budget for this hurricane season down as low as $25 billion. With a stormy year ahead, this could mean bad news.