Trump’s $400 a week jobless aid could be just $300. It depends on where you live.

US President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office on March 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Governors, lawmakers and state unemployment agencies on Monday wrestled with confusion created by President Donald Trump’s executive action extending unemployment benefits, and it appeared some states could settle for $300 a week in benefits instead of the $400 that the president touted.

State leaders from both political parties remained unsure how much they’d have to contribute to receive federal funding. With states already facing budget shortfalls and unemployment systems ill-equipped to handle a new stream of federal cash, they also may be hesitant to accept benefits estimated by budget experts to last just weeks.

The multiple questions added urgency to calls for the Trump administration to reach a deal on coronavirus relief with congressional leaders, instead of relying on Trump’s Saturday night memo.

The memo said the federal government would provide $300 per week in additional aid to unemployed workers if their states also contributed $100. But in guidance to states late Sunday obtained by States Newsroom, the U.S. Department of Labor said the federal government would provide the additional $300 per week to states with or without the state match, adding another layer of complexity.

“One big question is: Are states going to participate in it?” said David Super, a professor of administrative and constitutional law at Georgetown University’s law school. “I think most states won’t. I think many states will have difficulty doing it without approval from their legislatures, many of which have adjourned.”

Iowa Workforce Development posted on its Facebook page that it is waiting for more guidance and asked Iowans not to call with inquiries about the benefit in the meantime:

“… IWD will need additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor before this benefit can be developed and implemented. We will update our website as additional information becomes available, including timelines. Please do not contact customer service regarding whether you are eligible for the benefits or when it may be paid. We need to keep our phone lines open for individuals who have questions regarding filing for unemployment benefits. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

A spokesperson for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Monday the state would likely take the option not to contribute, which would mean unemployed workers in Ohio would receive $300 a week rather than $400. That would be half of the $600 a week extended in a March relief bill that expired July 31.

In Virginia, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam was noncommital. “We are continuing to review newly-released details from the US Department of Labor to determine how — and if — we can proceed,” said Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump’s attempt on unemployment benefits is a “disaster” and won’t work. “It is so put together with spit and glue, that in all likelihood many states won’t implement it at all, some have said so, and many more even if they want to implement it will take months, several months, while people will not get their unemployment benefits,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Under the cost-share formula laid out in the memo, the federal government would spend about $44 billion and states would be required to contribute almost $15 billion. That price tag may shock states that have seen revenues decline and costs skyrocket as they respond to a pandemic that has also put millions out of work.

The Sacramento Bee reported that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom estimated the tab for California could be $770 million.

In addition to the ongoing weekly cost to states, participating in the program would require them to overhaul unemployment computer systems at a time when many states are facing dire financial situations.

National Governors Association Chair Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., and Vice Chair Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said in a joint statement that governors “appreciate the White House’s proposals to provide additional solutions to address economic challenges; however, we are concerned about the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.”

The governors said the president should return to negotiations with Congress to provide more sustainable relief to states.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that unemployed Americans should see the new benefits “quickly and close to immediately,” but “a lot of this will depend on states and them applying.” She noted that states can use funds from the CARES Act, the earlier federal coronavirus relief bill, for their contribution, and blamed Democrats for not continuing in talks to come up with a compromise.

Brian Sigritz, the director of state fiscal policy at the National Association of State Budget Officers, said there were several outstanding questions about how the program would be administered.

Under the executive memo, federal funding would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund. But that fund is typically paid out as a reimbursement, meaning states could be required to pay the money upfront.

The potential expense of the program would undercut other state initiatives, he said.

“States would have to choose between paying enhanced unemployment benefits, and directing funds to education needs such as safely reopening schools and providing for remote education, public health demands including testing and contract tracing, and economic support programs,” he said.

Several states and groups representing their interests in Washington said they needed more information before they could figure out what to do.

“It is still too early to tell what the impact of the president’s executive action will have on state unemployment,” said Zach Herman, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “States are still waiting on further guidance from the White House and the Department of Labor. …. Without further clarification from the Department of Labor and White House the impact is unclear.”

The Sunday guidance promised more information in a Monday phone conference but as of Monday afternoon, states were still waiting on that, according to a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

“While the President has enacted a series of executive orders regarding unemployment benefits, this program has not yet been implemented,” the spokeswoman, Erica Quealy, wrote in a Monday afternoon email. “All states are currently awaiting guidance from the US Department of Labor regarding implementation.

In a statement, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said the move would hurt the recovery effort because it didn’t equal the expired $600 weekly benefit.

“He cut federal funding for unemployed workers and is requiring states that are facing severe holes in our budgets to provide 25 percent of the funding,” Whitmer said. “His refusal to provide full federal funding to states across the country to help us combat this virus will hurt the brave men and women on the front lines of this crisis.”

Marty Schladen contributed reporting.