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Motorists take part in a caravan protest in front of Senator John KennedyÕs office at the Hale Boggs Federal Building asking for the extension of the $600 in unemployment benefits to people out of work because of the coronavirus in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. The benefits are set to expire on July 25 and the caravan of about a dozen cars was organized by UNITE HERE Local 23, Step UP Louisiana, The New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America and local residents to request that Senator John Kennedy and Sen. Bill Cassidy work to extend the benefit. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Just a simple change could make up to 20,000 unemployed workers eligible for the extra $300 weekly federal benefit, the Louisiana Workforce Commission announced Wednesday.

The 20,000 are ineligible for the expanded benefit announced by President Donald Trump, even though they meet the standard of receiving at least $100 per week in payments, because they did not list a Covid-19-related reason for being unemployed.

“They’re going to get an opportunity to refile. We’ll see what information they provide,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday on his monthly radio program on WRKF hosted by Jim Engster.

In the coming days, the Workforce Commission will send out emails asking the 20,000 jobless workers to update their filing status, Ava Dejoie, the agency’s secretary, said in an interview Wednesday. If the email address is faulty, Dejoie added, the agency will call the unemployed worker.

A call from the agency will not have a caller ID, Dejoie said, advising unemployed workers to be prepared to answer such a call to update their filing status and receive the extra $300.

"It does not do anyone good who is trying to resolve this to call us," Dejoie said.

The state agency’s announcement comes a day after Edwards said he thought more than 400,000 unemployed workers could begin receiving the extra $300 per week as soon as next week.

The money would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency under an executive order signed by Trump while he and the Republican-controlled Senate are stymied in negotiations with the Democrat-controlled House over a new federal rescue package. Democrats favor an extension of the $600 per week federal benefit that expired on July 31.

Louisiana is one of seven states approved by FEMA to make the $300 weekly payments.

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Edwards said that those who qualify for the new $300 benefit can expect about six weeks of expanded payments before the federal spigot runs dry again.

Unemployed workers can qualify for the money retroactively to Aug. 1, he said.

About 67,000 jobless workers do not qualify for the $300 weekly benefit because they not do receive at least $100 per week, the cutoff point for eligibility.

Edwards called that a “shortcoming” in the federal rules for Trump’s executive order and said he wrote the president on Tuesday asking him to eliminate the $100 minimum weekly payment requirement.

“We’re trying very hard to get it changed,” he said.

That up to 20,000 people might qualify for the extra $300 per week is “good news,” said Wendy Manard, a New Orleans attorney who has created a Facebook page for jobless workers, “but we still have people who earn less than $100 who are not eligible.”

Until July 31, Louisiana’s jobless workers received up to $847 per week – the $600 federal benefit plus the state maximum of $247.

When the new batch of federal money becomes available, they will receive up to $547 per week, at least temporarily.

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At the $247 maximum, Louisiana has one of the stingiest weekly payments to unemployed workers because lawmakers have heeded the demands by business leaders that they hold down the payroll tax that finances the unemployment trust fund.

The Workforce Commission reported that it has paid $5.5 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits to 1.2 million Louisiana citizens since March through Aug. 18.

The agency also has reported that the unemployment trust fund, which had $1.1 billion in March, will run out of money in about a month based on current spending projections.

The state will have to borrow money from the federal government to keep the benefits flowing. But to begin to fill up the fund again, employers will have to pay about a 10% surcharge into the unemployment trust fund, and jobless workers will suffer about a 10% cut in benefits.

Email Tyler Bridges at tbridges@theadvocate.com.