As he announced a tightening of some business restrictions in response to worsening COVID-19 conditions in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker suggested that the looming expiration of federal unemployment assistance programs have weighed on his decisions.
Baker was asked at a State House press conference whether the passage of additional federal stimulus for states would make it easier for him to roll back reopening guidelines as the pandemic worsens.
"I've been urging my colleagues in Washington for quite awhile now to recognize and understand how important it would be for all of their constituents to come together on a plan that either looks like, or is an extension of the CARES Act that was passed last summer, last spring," Baker responded.
He mentioned the expiration at the end of the month of enhanced federal unemployment assistance payments, including the end of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created by Congress as a life raft in the spring for gig workers and other independent contractors and artists who couldn't work, but were ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits.
"Unless that thing gets extended, there will not be an unemployment assistance program in the United States for a whole bunch of folks who, through no fault of their own, are not able to work," Baker said.
Since April, 285,942 eligible claims have been submitted in Massachusetts for PUA benefits and another 1,149,691 eligible claims have been made for traditional benefits.
The state's unemployment rate in October sat at 7.4 percent, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Massachusetts lost 340,200 jobs since October 2019.
"Those are really important issues when you're thinking and talking about what you're going to do with respect to people's access to work," Baker said.
Baker joined four other Republican governors on Monday to call on Congress to get a deal for additional coronavirus relief done before the holiday recess.