WASHINGTON (WDVM) — The District of Columbia has spent $13 million in federal funding for two rental assistance programs developed by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the DC Housing Finance Agency (DCHFA). Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Monday, Feb. 8. Still, an additional $11 million will be spent to go to the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DOES). This money will help fund additional staff as well as an update on system modifications taking place to adhere to the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act (CAA).
The Department of Employment Services Director, Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, said the department has gotten over 171,000 new unemployment claims since March 13, 2020. The $11 million will help DOES to clear backlog of claims, reduce customer wait times on the phone and get money to eligible residents in a shorter period of time.
“We know that as our battle against this virus continues, thousands of our residents continue to face economic hardship,” said Mayor Bowser. “By investing in our unemployment insurance program, we can improve our systems, help eligible residents enroll, and efficiently deliver these additional benefits.”
New improvements will include:
- New Technology and tools for efficiency
- Adding a Chatbot feature on the website to allow for immediate answers
- Increasing communications
- Robocalls and text messages being used to alert and update on new benefits availability and other agency announcements
- Adding capacity to program staff and operations
- Providing comprehensive staff training to improve quality of interactions
- Call center will operate on modified operations on February 17 and 26 for half-day training on the new program requirements
The CAA, which modifies and extends unemployment benefits under the CARES Act, was signed on December 27, 2020. District workers are now eligible to receive an extension of UI benefits through the following programs, outlined by the Mayor’s office:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – DOES is currently working on system modifications to extend PUA for 11 additional weeks (additional weeks are only effective through the week ending March 13, 2021). PUA covers individuals who are not eligible for traditional UI benefits. This includes self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and gig economy workers, as well as those who have exhausted their benefit eligibility under traditional UI, PEUC, and Extended Benefits (EB). PUA is effective February 2, 2020 through March 13, 2021. No new applications will be allowed after March 13, 2021. Eligible individuals, who are receiving PUA with the week ending March 13, 2021 and have not exhausted their benefits, may continue to collect any remaining benefits on their claim through the week ending April 10, 2021. System updates will be completed for impacted individuals to file their weekly certifications via DCnetworks after February 10, 2021.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) –DOES is currently working on system modifications to extend PEUC for 11 additional weeks (additional weeks are only effective through the week ending March 13, 2021). No new applications will be allowed after that date. PEUC covers individuals who have recently exhausted all rights to traditional UI under state or federal law and now provides up to 24 weeks of unemployment benefits. Eligible individuals, who have not exhausted their PEUC benefits as of March 13, 2021, may continue to receive PEUC through week ending April 10, 2021. System updates will be completed for impacted individuals to file their weekly certifications via DCnetworks after February 19, 2021.
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) – DOES has implemented new system-wide updates for FPUC, which will provide up to 11 weeks of an additional $300 per week to supplement benefits to claimants who are eligible, through traditional UI, PEUC, EB, or PUA. The extra $300 is available from week ending January 2, 2021 through the week ending March 13, 2021.
- Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) – DOES is currently working to develop an online MEUC application with document upload and approval process functionality. MEUC will provide a $100 weekly supplement to eligible individuals with annual self-employment income of at least $5,000 through March 13, 2021. To be eligible for MEUC, individuals must have received at least $5,000 of self-employment income in the most recent taxable year ending prior to the individual’s application for regular UI. Additional information about how to apply for MEUC will be provided soon. The application for MEUC will be ready February 15, 2021. MEUC payments will begin on February 19, 2021.
“We know that while it’s important to invest in our rental assistance programs, it’s even more critical that we get those dollars out the door and into the community,” said Mayor Bowser. “It will take a coordinated community effort to overcome the economic burdens caused by the pandemic. We look forward to working with our housing providers to quickly provide relief to tenants through these innovative programs.”