State joins program for $300 jobless aid boost

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana will join a federal coronavirus program providing an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits, although officials said Wednesday it could take up to a month for those payments to begin.

Health officials reported 15 more coronavirus-related deaths across the state, while the number of people confirmed with COVID-19 infections and those undergoing tests continued their recent declines.

Jobless aid

President Donald Trump this month signed an executive order extending the added weekly benefit after he and Congress were unable to agree to a broader new pandemic relief plan. The new payment is half the $600 people had been receiving under a previous benefit program that expired last month.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said the Indiana payments would be retroactive to Aug. 1.

It took several weeks for distribution of the initial federal jobless aid to start in Indiana after Congress approved it in March following widespread business shutdowns as the COVID-19 outbreak hit the country.

Payments from new program likely won’t begin for two to four weeks as computer systems are updated, said Fred Payne, commissioner of Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development.

“It is going to take a little bit of extra effort on our part in terms of moving staff to build a new system and that system requires us to look at some new infrastructure,” Payne said.

The $300 payments will more than double Indiana’s average $280 weekly unemployment payment, which has a maximum of $390 a week. Residents will have to be receiving $100 a week in unemployment aid to be eligible for the additional federal aid, a level which Indiana officials said the vast majority of those aid recipients currently met.

Indiana was paying unemployment benefits to about 330,000 people in late July, according to federal statistics.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said the additional funding may last roughly five or six weeks depending on how many states participate. Indiana’s unemployment rate was 11.3 in June — down from 17.5% in April.

Tracking schools

State officials are working to develop a public website that will track the number of coronavirus cases among students, teacher and other employees at Indiana’s K-12 schools.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said her goal was to have website available by mid- to late September and that the information would broken down by individual school.

The public tracking system is being developed as school districts across the state have struggled with reopening decisions.

Holcomb and state health officials have declined to set benchmarks for the circumstances when schools should close their doors to students.

Several of the state’s largest school districts have started the academic year with only online classes. Some opened with in-person classes only to backtrack after facing coronavirus cases.

Virus spread

Indiana’s newly recorded deaths raise the state’s pandemic death toll to 3,180, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, in the five months since Indiana’s first fatality was reported in mid-March, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. Most of the new deaths occurred Monday or Tuesday.

The 506 new coronavirus cases lowered the state’s seven-day average of newly confirmed infections to 834 on Tuesday. That average has been declining since reaching 945 in early August as the number of tests being conducted has fallen about 10% since late July.

State statistics show that Indiana hospitals were treating 842 patients with the COVID-19 respiratory disease on Tuesday, down from about 1,000 two weeks ago.




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