Congress steps in to keep jobless benefits flowing into March

180 residents of Malheur County stood to lose benefits if the stimulus hadn’t passed. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – Unemployed workers in Malheur County will see continued state benefits through March after recent action by Congress.

Politics in Washington, D.C., had put the weekly unemployment checks at risk for those who have been out of work for months.

Normally, an Oregonian can receive unemployment benefits for no more than 26 weeks. Federal CARES Act legislation approved earlier this year extended that by 13 weeks, until Christmas.

Another federal program lasting until Christmas made it possible for self-employed workers, who normally don’t have unemployment insurance benefits, to collect payment, also for up to 39 weeks. A third program allotted an extra $600 per week to all workers receiving any sort of benefit from the beginning of April through the end of July.

Now, workers eligible for traditional unemployment and the self-employed are going to continue getting unemployment benefits for at least another 11 weeks.

Overall, traditional workers are now eligible for 24 extra weeks of benefits instead of 13 weeks. Gig workers and the self-employed are now eligible for 50 weeks of benefits instead of 39. And in a reprise of the program which ended in July, everyone receiving unemployment benefits of any kind will get an additional $300 a week. 

For artists and freelancers who have some self-employment income and some regular work in traditional industries, there’s also a new benefit available – an extra $100 a week.

According to David Gerstenfeld, acting director at the Oregon Employment Department, the state is still awaiting details from the federal Labor Department to implement that program. 

“These are federal programs that states administer on behalf of the federal government, so we have to follow their guidelines,” Gerstenfeld said. 

Across the state, 72,000 Oregonians stood to lose benefits if the stimulus bill had not passed. In Malheur County, 180 people stood to lose benefits. The current number of unemployed in Malheur County is estimated at 589 people, when seasonally adjusted. 

Although the past month saw a small .3% reduction in countywide unemployment numbers, Malheur County still has an unemployment rate .7% higher than it was at this time last year. Those most affected by unemployment in Malheur County have been workers in the leisure and hospitality sector, which encompasses the hard-hit restaurant industry.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

SUPPORT OUR VITAL LOCAL WORK: We provide Malheur County the local journalism that searches out the facts for you. SUBSCRIBE FOR $5/month. Click HERE