FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky should accept a supplemental $300 in federal weekly assistance for its unemployed workers under a White House offer that won't require any extra spending by the state, Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a letter to the state's Democratic governor.
McConnell, the Senate majority leader, noted in his Monday letter to Gov. Andy Beshear that some states — including some led by Democratic governors — have started accepting the assistance. McConnell added that “Kentucky must not be left behind."
“All you need to do is sign up," McConnell, the chief congressional ally to President Donald Trump, said in his letter.
Kentucky and other states were hit by surging unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic.
The option recently provided by the White House involves less than the $600 a week in federal pandemic aid that unemployment recipients received until the assistance expired on Aug 1. Congress has been unable to agree on an extension amid an impasse on a new round of coronavirus aid.
Trump issued a series of executive orders, including the lower supplemental unemployment payments, after negotiations broke down over the new relief bill.
Another option for Kentucky and other states is to tap into federal aid already provided under the CARES Act to raise the extra weekly payment to $400 for unemployment claimants, McConnell said. McConnell was a chief architect of the massive relief provided under the measure.
Kentucky recipients will still receive regular state unemployment benefits under the options.
Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley said Monday that his administration is reviewing the application. The White House has provided additional guidance to “help find a workable solution" since the president issued the executive order, she said.
“The governor and other state officials want to find a way to provide additional benefits to help our struggling Kentuckians get through this pandemic," Staley said in a statement.
McConnell urged Beshear's administration to move quickly to apply for the supplemental payments.
“Either way, whether the plus-up is up to $300 per week or up to $400 per week, it's entirely covered by federal dollars," the senator said in his letter. “I believe the only way Kentuckians can lose is if our state sits this out altogether."
The new federal assistance would be temporary. It would be available either until the fund runs out of money or until Dec. 27, whichever comes first, according to McConnell's office.
If every state draws on the funding, the supplement could last just five weeks, his office said. But some states aren't seeking the additional aid.
McConnell, who is seeking a seventh term in the November election, touted the availability of the extra benefits during an appearance Monday in south-central Kentucky.
The senator referred to the $300 or $400 supplement as a “more realistic” amount.
Referring to the previous $600 weekly federal supplement, McConnell said Monday: “You have a situation where one person on one side of the street was staying home because they were being actually better compensated not working, and the fellow across the street was going to work for less. And what we tried to do was to come up with a more realistic figure, where we were not rewarding people for staying home. Because we want folks to go back to work.”
Going back to work requires jobs to go back to, of course, and many workplaces remain closed for public health reasons while coronavirus infections spread. Also, tapping into CARES Act funding for unemployment checks will leave cash-strapped states with less to spend on other pandemic priorities.
Many states also still question how Trump's executive action will be implemented, and how long the federal money will last without approval by Congress, which controls federal spending.
Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne also urged Beshear to seek the money anyway.
“This is a common-sense approach and guides dollars already allocated to help Kentucky into the hands of people who genuinely need it," the Republican speaker said in a statement.