WASHINGTON -- The nation's system for providing unemployment benefits to jobless workers has consistently produced inaccurate data and lower-than-appropriate payouts to some workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a government watchdog said Monday.
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The Labor Department's weekly reports on jobless claims have published "flawed estimates of the number of individuals receiving benefits each week throughout the pandemic," the Government Accountability Office said in a periodic report.
In addition, a program created by Congress to provide jobless benefits to workers who are normally not eligible for them has underpaid recipients in most states. As a result, the average weekly payout under what is called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which is available to gig-economy workers and the self-employed, is below the poverty line in 70% of states that reported data.
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"The majority of states have been paying PUA claimants the minimum allowable benefit instead of the amount they are eligible for based on prior earnings," the GAO said.
The GAO report comes as two key coronavirus-relief programs -- the PUA and an extended availability of regular unemployment-insurance to 39 weeks from the usual 26 -- are set to expire at the end of December. Negotiations between Democrats, Republicans and the White House over another round of coronavirus relief have been stalled for months.