BISMARCK — Jobless North Dakotans are receiving an extra $300 per week thanks to the federal government's new $900 billion pandemic relief program.
While that's a boost for those collecting benefits as the average benefit in North Dakota is $435 a week, some of the other programs for the unemployed in the relief legislation haven't been finalized.
Darren Brostrom, Director of Unemployment Insurance at Job Service North Dakota, said he doesn't have a timeline for the other two primary jobless facets of the new relief program that includes aid for people who had exhausted regular jobless benefits and another for those who are self-employed or business owners and out of work.
Brostrom said when the guidelines are finalized by the U.S. Department of Labor there will be retroactive payments in both of those programs to the week of Dec. 27.
Job Service was able to make the extra $300 payments to the 8,671 workers on regular unemployment, he said, as staff members were able to reprogram systems quickly enough to pay the first week allowed by law, which was the week of Dec. 27 to Jan. 2.
"We had been closely monitoring the bill status in Congress and had been making adjustments that we felt would not change or require in-depth federal guidance to complete, so we were ready right away," Brostrom wrote an email to The Forum.
All three of the programs are extended until March 13, although President-elect Joe Biden has promised another relief program will be on its way.
Brostrom said they had a meeting this past week with the labor department on the program extending benefits, but staff is still going through programming options.
He didn't have a week when the extended benefits would resume for those workers, but said they should be able to move pretty quickly on that effort.
As for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed or independent contractors and others who typically wouldn't be eligible for benefits, Brostrom said that effort in its original form ended on Dec. 26.
"But the new PUA program picks up right where that ended, so there will not be a gap in payments," he said.
There will, however, be a delay while the new aspects of the program are put in place for those who still haven't returned to their jobs, he said.
"There will be no benefits lost," Brostrom noted, again emphasizing that retroactive payments will be forthcoming.
He said they are concerned with the number of changes with the PUA program and hope to learn more details to complete programming "as soon as possible."
There are 8,588 residents on the PUA program. He said there is no specific limit as to who can qualify for PUA, and "they do and can come from any industry and they are unemployed specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic."
The industry with the most active claims is construction, which was be expected, Brostrom said, because it reflects the normal seasonal claim trend.
In all, the total number of North Dakotans collecting benefits as of this week is at about 17,250 and rising.
Brostrom said since last March 16, when the pandemic took hold and many lost their jobs because of shutdowns, there have been 134,312 claims filed in the state, split almost equally between regular claims and those under PUA for the self-employed and independent contractors.
North Dakota's jobless numbers are small compared to many other states. Nationwide, there were 10.7 million unemployed as the new year began with the latest unemployment rate as of Friday, Jan. 8, at 6.7%, which was unchanged from the week prior.
Millions are looking for jobs, said the Department of Labor in its monthly job report on Friday. Last month, the department said, 140,000 people lost their jobs because of the recent increase in coronavirus cases.
"Job losses in leisure and hospitality and in private education were partially offset by gains in professional and business services, retail trade and construction," the report said.
According to WalletHub, a personal finance website, North Dakota had the 12th best recovery nationwide recently in its workforce, while Minnesota ranked 24th and South Dakota had the 8th best recovery. Connecticut had the best recovery.
The latest seasonally adjusted jobless rate in North Dakota is 4.5%, while it sits at 4.4% in Minnesota.