GREAT FALLS — Lawmakers in Congress are working on a potential extension of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation this week, which is set to expire on July 31. Despite that set date, an Unemployment Insurance benefit week in Montana runs from Sunday to Saturday. That means that the last full week where the FPUC program will be in effect is the week of July 20.
Should Congress fail to approve an extension to this and other expiring programs that fall under the umbrella of the CARES Act, there are options that will still be available to Montanans in the work force who continued to be impacted by the pandemic.
“There are a variety of resources that are available to Montanans right now,” said Montana Department of Labor & Industry Public Information Officer Lauren Lewis. “A comprehensive information resource and application portal for emergency grants, also funded through the CARES Act, is available at COVIDrelief.mt.gov. That’s a great resource for Montanans that have been impacted by COVID-19. Our department also offers resources like Job Service Montana. Our job service staff members can help job seekers look for work, and they can also help businesses connect with job seekers at this time, so that’s just a great resource for communities right now.”
It’s also important to remember that just because the extra $600 per week may soon be disappearing, unemployment benefits as a whole will not be. There are also other provisions in the CARES Act that aren’t set to expire until December 26. Among those are Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides people who run out of their normal allotted benefits with an extra 13 weeks of benefits. Then there’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides up to 46 weeks of benefits to people who are business owners, self-employed workers, independent contractors, and number of other designations.
“While it’s not a CARES Act provision, we’re also now offering an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits for eligible individuals who have exhausted both their regular UI benefits and those PEUC benefits” said Lewis. “There are a variety of resources that are available to Montanans right now. A comprehensive information resource and application portal for emergency grants, also funded through the CARES Act, is available at COVIDrelief.mt.gov.”
April’s unemployment numbers in Montana were the highest the state has ever seen, with more than 68,000 people filing unemployment claims, according to the Department of Labor & Industry online database. Despite the record high numbers, there is a positive sign. Some Montanans have been able to return to work. Only 49,391 unemployment claims were filed in May, and 42,086 in June.
On July 17, Governor Steve Bullock announced that the state’s unemployment rate dropped 1.9 percentage points to 7.1% in June. That put Montana well below the national rate of 11.1% for June.
“According to our research and analysis bureau, since the peak claims week during the week ending April 18th, to the most recent week we have data available on, ending July 4th, over 33,000 Montanans have gone back to work,” said Lewis. “(That’s) in addition to over 13,000 UI claimants who are currently working part-time.”
Montanans still out of work due to circumstances brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic are encouraged by the Department of Labor & Industry to visit a number of online resources, including montanaworks.gov, and covidrelief.mt.gov.