BISMARCK — Government and business leaders are dealing with a quagmire of daily updates on economic assistance for North Dakota employers and employees during the coronavirus outbreak, but as quickly as the answers come in they change.
“It remains true this week that many questions of implementation are unanswered,” North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer said Thursday, April 9, in the latest of a weekly ongoing series of business briefing calls hosted by The Greater North Dakota Chamber.
Kommer said final guidance on many aspects of the $2 trillion CARES Act are still needed, and information is subject to change.
And, sometimes, information can change in the middle of a phone call.
Kommer shared a text she received while on the call from U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D, regarding expanded funding for the CARES Act, a question on many people’s minds at the moment.
“He shared with me that the potential for the expansion of funding for the CARES Act was, indeed, heard this morning," Kommer said, "and it was blocked this morning.”
Workforce Safety and Insurance and Job Service North Dakota Director Bryan Klipfel, also on the call, said since March 16 his office has taken in approximately 44,000 unemployment claims.
“Last year,” Klipfel said, “for 2019, for the whole year, we had 20,500.”
Initial guidance regarding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for those who can’t collect regular unemployment benefits, came April 6, Klipfel said, and claims are being accepted. He stressed, however, that processing won’t likely happen until the week of April 12, at the earliest, due to the need for further guidance from the federal government.
He said since going live with the application, the state already has 3,100 PUA claims.
As for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, for those who have exhausted their state unemployment insurance, Klipfel said applications are available online, but further guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor has not yet been received.
“We’re still waiting for that before we can start with the program,” he said.
Klipfel also addressed the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, which potentially gives applicants $600 extra per week.
“We are working on programming our IT systems so that we can get that out,” Klipfel said, “and we’re hoping that we can get that out next week.”
As for those who might feel going on unemployment could be more lucrative than remaining in their current job? Klipfel had a direct answer.
“An employee cannot decide to go on unemployment rather than work,” Klipfel said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Notice of claims will be sent to employers to verify every claim, he said.
Despite the confusion when it comes to the rapidly-changing area of unemployment insurance, especially when some applicants are seeing their claims denied, Kommer stressed there are a number of different assistance options to choose from, but she also included a caveat.
“There is an obligation on the part of the applicant for unemployment insurance to understand which program they’re applying for,” Kommer said, “and I think that’s a really critically important takeaway here.”
While independent contractors, “gig economy” workers, self-employed, sole proprietors, and nonprofits, including faith-based organizations, are now eligible for assistance under the CARES Act, questions linger regarding the documentation needed for application, as well as guidelines relating to eligibility, implementation and disbursement.
For the latest information on the CARES Act, the PPP, PUA, PEUC, and FPUC programs, links to The U.S. Small Administration loans, and other forms of support and relief, Kommer said to utilize NDresponse.gov.