Laura Seitz, KSL

Utah not ready to pony up for Trump’s unemployment benefits plan

By Dennis Romboy, KSL | Updated - Aug. 11, 2020 at 2:05 p.m. | Posted - Aug. 11, 2020 at 11:46 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah isn’t ready to jump onto President Donald Trump’s executive order extending unemployment benefits that would require states to pony up part of the cost.

Questions of legality aside, Gov. Gary Hebert’s office is waiting for more detailed guidance from the Trump administration on how states can match the federal funds before making a decision.

“We don’t want to divert state funds, either CARES Act funding or other sources, but if the administration develops a way to qualify for the additional $300 without burdening our budget and health response, we would consider pursuing those funds,” according to a statement Tuesday from the governor’s office.

Trump on Saturday authorized an extra $400 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits for jobless Americans, but states would have to come up with 25% of the cost under the plan. The administration set aside $44 billion in disaster relief funds for the supplement, of which the federal government’s portion can’t exceed 75%.

So to reach the $400 supplement, the state would have to provide $100. The federal government had been covering the full cost of the now-expired $600 added benefit as part of the first coronavirus relief package.

Because the unemployment benefit relies on state funds, it might never materialize as states face big fundings deficits due to the pandemic. The Utah Legislature took to steps earlier this year to plug an estimated $850 million shortfall in the state budget.

The National Governors Association, headed by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, said in a statement that it appreciates the White House’s proposals to provide additional solutions to address economic challenges, but is concerned about the significant administrative burdens and costs it would place on the states.

The best way forward is for Congress and the Trump administration to get back to the negotiating table and come up with a workable solution that would provide meaningful relief for American families, according to the association.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is among both Republicans and Democrats questioning the legality of Trump’s weekend executive orders, which also include aid for renters, federal student loan relief and payroll tax deferrals.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Monday called the eviction holiday “aspirational,” but said he believes Trump has the authority to carry out what he has described in the orders.

The big one is unemployment insurance, Romney said, noting the president is doing it under emergency conditions.

“That’s kind of questionable in terms of whether that would hold up if it were challenged. But I can’t imagine the Democrats challenging that. I can’t imagine the Democrats going out and saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want that $400 going to the unemployed,” he said.

Romney said he wants to get help to the unemployed so they can pay for rent, food and health care. He proposed his own plan to extend unemployment benefits through the end of the year but it hasn’t picked up any steam.

Dennis Romboy

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