(The Center Square) – While the details about how President Donald Trump’s new unemployment benefits proposal will work are unclear, it’s no substitute for an official aid package from Congress, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.
“Nobody – not the president, not the vice president, not Secretary [of the U.S. Treasury Steve] Mnuchin – nobody believes that the executive actions taken by the president on Saturday are a realistic and complete substitute for the legislation that Congress needs to pass,” Edwards said.
Trump has proposed adding $400 to states’ weekly benefits to partially replace the $600 enhancement that ran out at the end of July. The money would come from $44 billion in Federal Emergency Management Administration funds normally used for natural disasters.
FEMA often requires states to put up a 25 percent match, and states would be expected to cover $100 of the $400 benefit. Edwards said he wasn’t sure how much that would cost the state, whether Louisiana would be able to pay, or what the ramifications would be if the state can’t pay its match.
States can use CARES Act funds to pay for their match. Louisiana already has allocated its $1.8 billion share for that aid package, though not all of the money has yet been spent.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates the $44 billion would be enough to pay five weeks’ worth of benefits under the president’s proposal, which could cause the fund to run dry at the height of hurricane season. Edwards said he assumed Congress would refill the fund if that happened and did not expect a lack of federal disaster aid would hinder the state’s ability to respond to a disaster.
It’s unclear if the president’s executive order is legally sound, and it would be moot if the federal government approves another round of aid.
Edwards continues to press Congress and the administration for a fourth COVID-19 aid package that includes shoring up states’ unemployment insurance trust funds. Louisiana’s fund contains about $253 million, compared to more than $1 billion before the pandemic began, and is on pace to be insolvent next month.
Absent a direct infusion from Congress, the state would have to borrow from the federal government to pay benefits. While the loan would be interest-free, the state would have to charge businesses fees to pay it off.
State health officials are reporting progress since Edwards issued a statewide mask mandate, closed bars and limited crowds to 50 people or fewer 16 days ago. Officials said 1,335 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, down from 1,600 on July 27, which was the peak of the pandemic’s second surge in Louisiana.
Edwards said 15 hospitals in Louisiana are reporting that they have no available intensive care beds, compared to 28 a week ago. State officials have reported more than 133,000 total cases and more than 89,000 recoveries. At least 4,195 residents with COVID-19 have died, officials reported Tuesday.
“We’re still in a very difficult place, but our trends have been positive over the last couple of weeks,” Edwards said. “The progress hasn’t been dramatic, but it has been steady.”