Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images
The Senate on Saturday passed a $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that extends and increases unemployment benefits.
Democrats will now seek to get the pandemic aid bill to President Joe Biden in a timely manner to avoid a gap in unemployment benefits, which is expected to expire next weekend.
According to some experts, it may be too late to prevent this from happening.
"The unfortunate reality is that we waited a little too long," said Elizabeth Pancotti, unemployment expert and policy advisor at Employ America. "They needed a bill to (President Biden) by Valentine's Day."
The House intends to approve the Senate version of the plan in the coming days and send it to Biden to be signed into law.
Democrats are trying to get their final bailout package through March 14th, the day the current $ 300-per-week surcharge and other temporary programs expire.
Without a further extension, millions of the long-term unemployed would lose income support and fall off the so-called performance cliff.
More from Personal Finance:
Some workers never received the last round of the extended benefits
There are new PPP rules for the self-employed and gig workers
With 4 million Americans long-term unemployed, a cliff threatens
According to the Department of Labor, more than 18 million Americans were raising unemployment benefits in mid-February.
American rescue plan
After significant delays, Senate Democrats agreed on Friday to extend unemployment benefits through September 6 and pay an additional $ 300 per week. (You would also exempt the first $ 10,200 in unemployment benefits to avoid surprise bills. The provision applies to households with income below $ 150,000.)
They passed the US bailout on Saturday in a 50-49 party vote as Republicans questioned the need for another major spending package.
The legislation differs slightly from the version that the House passed last Saturday. That bill provided unemployment benefits through August 29, increasing it by $ 400 per week.
It is likely that the Democrats will get the bill to Biden's desk by March 14th. However, certain administrative steps and technological hurdles lead to the conclusion that there will be a multi-week performance gap for some workers anyway, experts said.
"I think there is a subset of people whose benefits will end on this bluff on March 14th," said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation.
These delays also occurred earlier in the pandemic – after the passage of the CARES law in March 2020 and again after measures such as support for lost wages in the summer and the law on continued support in December.
However, some states have done better than others.
Federal data indicate that, for example, almost 3 million people fell off the so-called Benefit Cliff after Christmas.
States usually have to wait for instructions from the Department of Labor to implement new rules after a law has been passed. They then need to code these rules into their systems and test them.
"After delivery, our sales person will have to reprogram the system and will not be able to begin this work until we receive rules and regulations from the Department of Labor," the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said of the American Rescue Plan at a town hall this week .
However, the governor and other state officials are working to avoid a performance gap, the ministry said.
"A couple of weeks of chaos"
This process can take some states about four to five weeks or more, Pancotti said.
States like Wisconsin have not yet granted some residents additional benefits under the December Aid Act.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic, experts said. Delays probably won't last as long as some previous ones.
For example, the rules don't seem to change much, reducing complexity and programming time. And the Democrats seem intent on getting the bill passed by a simple majority, using a budget process called reconciliation, which gives states more clarity.
"I think everyone is expecting a few weeks of chaos where workers may not get paid on time," Pancotti said. "(But) we think it will be a shorter (delay) and for fewer workers and fewer states."
Also, not everyone is ready to lose aid on March 14th.
The date is a "soft cliff". Workers who exhaust their maximum 50-week benefit assignment through temporary programs will be fired.
Such people have been collecting help since the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
But those who haven't reached 50 weeks can still get money until April 11th. These workers have a little air to breathe, said Stettner.
It is to be hoped that delays will not last longer than two to five weeks, added Stettner.
What should I do
The employees should continue to certify benefits like every week, said Stettner.
This way, even if there are delays, they will receive a refund for those weeks. States should spend these funds automatically as long as workers certify it.
"Keep doing what you are doing," he said. "And if for some reason it doesn't happen the first time, keep trying."
If workers can't get a performance certificate, they should record their attempts – for example, by taking a screenshot of failed login attempts or outgoing calls to an employment agency, said Stettner.