States need several weeks to update their computer systems and adapt to the changes included in the American Rescue Plan, a Labor Department official said Monday in a memo to state unemployment agencies.
"Acknowledging that states need time to modify their computer systems to accommodate the extensions and modifications provided under ARPA, the Department expects many states will need until the middle of April or later to implement the new provisions and begin notifying individuals," wrote Suzan LeVine, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Labor Department's employment and training administration.
The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law last Thursday by Biden extends supplemental unemployment benefits by $300 a week through Sept. 6. It also added a new provision that makes the first $10,200 of the 2020 benefits non-taxable for households earning less than $150,000.
But outdated state unemployment insurance systems across the U.S. are expected to slow the distribution of aid. States also took weeks, and sometimes months, to begin doling out previous rounds of pandemic aid for out-of-work Americans.
The $900 billion relief measure that former President Donald Trump signed into law extending benefits for the long-term unemployed until March 14. Millions were also eligible for an extra month of jobless benefits if they had not exhausted their maximum allotment of weekly jobless aid.
Figures released by the Labor Department last Thursday show that 712,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended March 6 as coronavirus caseloads dropped nationwide and many states rolled back restrictions on business activity. In total, there were about 20.1 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits for the week ending Feb. 20.
Weekly jobless claims have remained stubbornly high for months, hovering around four times the typical pre-crisis level, although it's well below the peak of almost 7 million that was reached when stay-at-home orders were first issued a year ago in March.
There are roughly 9.5 million fewer jobs than there were last year in February before the crisis began.