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Baker Says Mass. Will Apply For New Federal Unemployment Relief, Despite His Reservations

Gov. Charlie Baker. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Gov. Charlie Baker. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Gov. Charlie Baker says he will apply for President Trump's scaled-down version of enhanced unemployment benefits, despite his concerns with the plan for funding.

The first round of those benefits gave $600 a week to people who lost their jobs in the pandemic. Those benefits expired at the end of July.

Under a memorandum signed by Trump earlier this month, the federal government would pay $300 per week to people on unemployment, and states are asked to pay an additional $100. The new benefits require the bulk of money to come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Baker says he doesn't like this new set up.

"But if this program is there and it turns out to be the only thing that's there, I don't think Massachusetts should pass on that so we have sent a letter to the folks at FEMA saying that we intend to apply," Baker said.

The program changes were made by a presidential executive order, after the House and Senate could not agree on a new relief package.

NPR reports that it remains unclear whether the president has the authority to do certain steps unilaterally, without congressional approval. In any case, legal challenges are expected, which could delay any disbursement of funds.

Baker initially expressed his concerns last week, saying "it needs to be done through a separate appropriation, not by taking money from FEMA, which is how we, the states, are planning to get reimbursed" for costs incurred at the beginning of the pandemic.

Baker's COVID-19 spending bill, signed last month, relies on FEMA reimbursement to bring the net state cost for pandemic-related costs down to zero dollars.

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