SALEM — The Oregon Employment Department estimates that up to 70,000 workers could lose their jobless benefits on the day after Christmas, when a major federal coronavirus relief program ends.
When Congress passed the CARES Act in March, it extended the period during which people are eligible for regular unemployment assistance from 26 to 39 weeks. Congress also created a new program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for self-employed workers and others who aren’t usually eligible for jobless benefits.
Both those programs expire at the end of the year, so benefits would end on Dec. 26. That’s because the following week extends past Jan. 1.
PUA recipients face a hard cutoff but the employment department said many Oregon workers on the 13-week extension may qualify for 20 weeks from a similar program called Extended Benefits. The employment department says it will move eligible workers to that other program automatically when the 13-week extension expires and send them a letter notifying them of the shift.
Nationally, a study issued earlier this week by the left-leaning Century Foundation pegged the total number of Americans who will lose benefits when the CARES Act expires at 12 million.
A divided Congress has given no indication that it will reach a compromise to extend those benefits by the year-end deadline. Democrats who control the House of Representatives want a large aid package with broad assistance. The Republican majority in the Senate wants much narrower benefits.
The looming cutoff comes as Oregon and the rest of the nation face a sharp uptick in coronavirus infections, which is threatening the nascent economic recovery as people hunker down and states restore shutdown measures that lapsed in the spring.
The state’s jobless rate dropped a full percentage point last month to 6.9%, but Oregon began a two-week “freeze” Wednesday that shuts down in-person dining and gyms across the state. (The freeze lasts four weeks in Multnomah County, where the coronavirus pandemic is especially severe.)
The employment department estimates the freeze could impact 51,000 Oregonians’ jobs, though some of those workers were already collecting partial unemployment benefits because they are working part time.