(The Center Square) – Louisiana’s unemployment insurance fund contains about $840 million, enough to maintain the current unprecedented rate of spending for about 16 weeks, officials said Thursday.
At the same time, officials acknowledged that any number of variables, including another federal infusion of federal dollars and the ongoing economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, could affect that calculation.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission paid 103,000 people $153 million in unemployment benefits last year, LWC Executive Director Ava Dejoie said. Since March 21, the LWC has paid 400,000 people about $1.4 billion, including $323 million in state dollars, she said.
The federal government has sent money to states to enhance unemployment benefits in hopes of stimulating the economy and providing pandemic-related assistance to workers who might not otherwise be eligible. But the state’s fund still covers standard unemployment benefits to workers whose employers have paid into the system.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 40,268 Louisiana residents filed new unemployment claims last week, compared to 50,941 the previous week. In a typical week, the number is less than 2,000. About 325,000 people currently are receiving benefits.
Though Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has let employers put off paying unemployment insurance taxes, the LWC says many employers have been making payments. Collections are only off about 9 percent compared to last year so far. Whether that trend continues through the second and third quarters of the year will depend on how many people go back to work, an official said.
Dejoie spoke Thursday to the state House of Representatives’ Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. While some members described the frustrations some of their constituents have experienced while trying to obtain benefits, Democrat and Republican members offered effusive praise for the work her and the rest of LWC have done during the emergency.
Rep. Ed Larvadain, an Alexandria Democrat, urged Dejoie to make sure recipients know federal benefits worth $600 a week will expire at the end of July and that they will be expected to return to work as business restrictions are lifted and their employers call them back.
“We want people working so they can pay taxes,” he said. “We’ve got to put more money in the bank.”