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Will Louisiana's unemployed workers get full $400 bump? Some may not qualify

Greg Hilburn
Monroe News-Star
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards speaks during a March 2020 press conference.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said specific details on how a new enhanced federal unemployment COVID benefit will work and whether Louisiana workers will get a full additional $400 per week remained unclear Tuesday.

President Trump signed an executive order over the weekend allowing for a $400 enhancement if states can come up with a 25% match; $300 a week if they can't.

But Edwards said he believes about half of the state's unemployed workers, about 200,000, may not qualify for any enhanced benefit because they receive less than $100 a week in state unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, Edwards said, Louisiana's unemployment trust fund is fast approaching insolvency.

"We're trying to figure out exactly what we can do to afford our unemployed workers the opportunity to participate in the enhanced benefit," Edwards said during a press conference at the Capitol.

Edwards said his workforce commission secretary was on the phone with the U.S. Department of Labor even as his press conference was in progress.

Trump's order allows states to access their CARES Act funds to meet the 25% match, but all of Louisiana's $1.8 billion in CARES Act funding has been allocated.

"There are still a lot of questions about this," Edwards said.

Trump took the action as Congress remains deadlocked on negotiations on the next federal relief package. The federal portion of the enhanced benefit would come from the federal disaster relief fund used by FEMA to respond to natural disasters like hurricanes.

"Nobody believes actions taken by President Trump is a substitute for legislation," Edwards said. "This underscores the need for Congress to come up with a compromise."

In the previous package passed by Congress, unemployed workers received a $600 per week enhancement in addition to their state benefits.

But that program ran out at the end of July, leaving the nation's unemployed workers with their state benefit alone, the maximum of which is $247 in Louisiana.

Edwards said he hopes Congress' next package will include funding to replenish the state's unemployment trust fund, which has fallen from a flush all-time high of more than $1 billion in March to $253 million now.

"I have no doubt we are going to at some point have an unemployment trust fund that is insolvent (unless federal relief is passed)," Edwards said. 

That could happen as soon as September.

Before Louisiana's fund goes broke, the state will be required to borrow money from the federal government to continue to pay its unemployment benefits, which is something Edwards hopes to avoid because that would also trigger higher taxes on businesses.

"I fully anticipate we won't have any choice but to borrow money from the federal government, but then we have to pass that cost to businesses," Edwards said. "We don't want to do that."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.