Employment dept: Trust fund can’t be tapped for PUA

Coronavirus

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Tens of thousands of Oregonians are on the cusp of losing their unemployment benefits and lawmakers have yet to make a move toward extending those lifelines.

Both the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs end on December 26. The end of those programs will leave 70,000 people in Oregonian without the financial means they’ve relied upon these past several months to scrape by.

Jessica Hope Prince Kroll is among those losing PUA benefits. She’s an artist and relied on events to earn a living. But with every event being canceled or customized for a virtual audience this year, Kroll’s livelihood has come to a screeching halt. She said it’s disheartening to know the PUA program keeping her afloat is about the expire when her business is far from getting back on track.

“It’s really disappointing, it really makes me and my other fellow sole proprietors feel as if we don’t have any importance in the grand scheme of things with our current government,” Kroll said.

Oregon Employment Department Acting Director David Gerstenfeld has said they can’t provide additional benefits without new legislation. But Congress has yet to extend the PUA and PEUC programs.

Gerstenfeld said the balance of the employment department’s trust fund was $5.1 billion at the start of the year; it has since been reduced to $3.85 billion. But Gerstenfeld said the trust fund can’t be used to pay PUA or PEUC benefits because both programs were created by the CARES Act, meaning the federal government is responsible for providing a solution. Federal law also prohibits the OED from using the trust fund money to pay people who aren’t eligible for regular unemployment insurance.

Meanwhile, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has called a special session to take place on Dec. 21 in order for the legislature to consider $800 million in relief to support Oregonians. Senate President Peter Courtney’s office said there are three bills in the works, including eviction moratorium support for tenants and landlords, a school liability bill and a restaurant package.

Noticeably missing from the proposed relief bills? An extension of unemployment benefits.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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