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Reeves on the fence over accepting additional federal unemployment aid



Gov. Tate Reeves during his April 22 news conference. (Photo via video screen grab)

Gov. Tate Reeves is on the fence over whether to accept additional federal aid for unemployed Mississippians.

Beginning the last week of July, the additional $600 added to unemployment benefits by the federal government because of the COVID-19 pandemic was no longer available.

Congress approved that program, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, in March to assist the millions of Americans who suddenly found themselves without work because of the virus.

On Aug. 8, President Donald Trump signed an executive order inaugurating a new federal program offering “lost wage assistance” to certain workers who remain jobless. That program proposes providing an additional $400 a week to state unemployment benefits; however, only $300 will come from federal coffers. States will need to provide the additional $100 to the unemployed.

In his live news conference Tuesday, Reeves said the required $100 match will double the amount of funds Mississippi is paying to the unemployed. Without the match, Mississippi is paying out about $22 million per week from the unemployment trust fund.

The fund held $706 million before the pandemic hit the state in March. As of last week, it was down to $489 million, which included $181 million from federal relief allocated by the state Legislature. Doubling the amount paid out would drain the fund in about 10 weeks, Reeves said.

With a maximum benefit of $235 per week, Mississippi’s unemployment compensation is the lowest in the nation. Reeves argues that the additional federal payments provides more money than many people made when they were working full time.

“That certainly is not a recipe for getting people back to work in the economy,” he said.

For the week ending Aug. 1, Mississippi saw nearly 7,000 new claims for benefits, the second sharp decrease in two weeks. The four-week average on new claims is around 10,000, which is more than 10 times the number of claims filed weekly before the COVID-19 crisis.

About 150,000 Mississippians filed for continued benefits during the previous week which saw the state’s unemployment rate dip below 10%, which is slightly lower than the national average.

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