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'We don’t eat like we used to' | Delay in unemployment benefits impacts local families

People receiving unemployment benefits in the region may need to wait at least one week before aid resumes after President Trump signed a pandemic relief plan.

WASHINGTON — People receiving unemployment benefits in the region may experience at least a one-week delay in aid after President Donald Trump waited to sign a $900 billion pandemic relief plan on Sunday.

The stimulus plan was passed by Congress earlier this month and extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, which assist people who had COVID-19 related job losses or reduction in incomes.

However, as a result of President Trump waiting until Sunday to sign the legislation, the two programs expired over the weekend. 

Now, uncertainty remains over when the relief will resume.

One of the people receiving aid is Cynthia Spencer, who lost her job as a paralegal assistant in March.

Since then, she has experienced the challenges of having no income firsthand.

"We don’t eat like we used to," she said on Monday. "Some of my bills, I can’t pay them fully. I say, 'Can you split this in half for me? I can't pay this week.'” 

Spencer is a mother and a grandmother, and she knows fellow neighbors who are also facing a similar unemployment experience.

At times during the pandemic, she said the lack of money has even impacted how much medication she takes to stay healthy.

"I have medicines at CVS that I can’t even pick up right now," Spencer said. "Some of my medicine I’m supposed to take every day. I take it every other day just so I won’t run out.” 

Spencer found assistance through PUA earlier this year, which has provided needed unemployment benefits as she waits for her office to reopen once again.

However, due to the delay in passing the pandemic relief package, Spencer and others may need to wait weeks before payments come back.

The Maryland Department of Labor, Virginia Employment Commission, and the DC Department of Employment Services all responded to a WUSA 9 email on Monday and said they were waiting for further guidance from the US Department of Labor before issuing payments.

"Labor is currently reviewing the legislation and awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on how the CARES Act program extensions should be implemented in Maryland," wrote Maryland Department of Labor spokesperson Fallon Pearre. "States cannot move forward without this guidance and it is unlikely the guidance will be issued before the end of the month."

A member of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, which has been helping people out of work navigate through the unemployment process, estimated that the delay could last up to three weeks before the payments are received.

"DC's technology for its claims website is very, very old (30+ years, maybe 40) so it seems less likely that DC will be able to make these changes quickly to avoid a delay in benefits," said supervising attorney Drake Hagner.

Over the weekend, Legal Aid DC told WUSA9 that more than 75,000 people in the district receiving unemployment aid could be impacted by the delays.

The Legal Aid Society of D.C. said Saturday that more than 75,000 people could lose unemployment benefits due to the delay in passing the pandemic relief package.

Hagner said people hoping to receive unemployment benefits should keep filing claims despite the uncertainty in the weeks ahead.

"Keep filing weekly claims to the best of your ability," she said. "Continue to file online for benefit programs you are in now. The safest thing to do is to continue to file and if you’re blocked from filing, take a picture of that pop-up message as proof you tried to file.”

Moving forward, Cynthia Spencer hoped the assistance would come soon.

As she waits for further relief, she said she would never take her job for granted whenever it comes back.

"I really miss work. At one time, you wait for the clock to be five o’clock. Now, I wish I could be there," she said. "When I get back to work, I’m going to try and save every dime I can.” 

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RELATED: Pandemic unemployment benefits set to expire Saturday

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