SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave the first green light on a bill allowing Utahns wanting to receive unemployment benefits to do so without the one-week waiting period when the governor or president has declared a state or national emergency.
The Senate voted unanimously in the historic special session Thursday, which was called to discuss emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A provision in The Cares Act provides federal funding to states who wish to waive the one-week waiting period for those seeking unemployment benefits, and Millner’s bill sought to do that.
”It will benefit a lot of people and allow them to begin to draw benefits once the paperwork is finished and they’re approved,” Millner said in an interview. “We have a lot of people who have that need right now.”
Hanna Pectol, a Utah State University student and employee at The White Owl and The Crepery, filed for unemployment benefits about three weeks ago when The White Owl announced it would be temporarily closing — along with all of Utah’s bars — and The Crepery drastically cut back her hours while Utahns are asked to stay home and restaurants move to take-out only.
“It’s another layer of anxiety where I don’t know when I’m going to be back at work,” Pectol said.
Because she’s not completely unemployed — just had her hours cut back — the Department of Workforce Services took two weeks to decide which benefits to afford Pectol, plus the additional one-week waiting period before she could begin receiving them.
“For two weeks I had little-to-no income…There was a solid two weeks where I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I just had nothing going for me except for the maybe $20 I would make in a shift.”
As she woke up each day, Pectol tried not to think about which groceries she could afford to buy — and which she could not.
Millner’s bill would have made a large difference in mitigating Pectol’s anxiety, and Pectol hopes the House of Representatives and Gov. Herbert agree.
While the bill would erase the federally mandated waiting period, it would not decrease the waiting time, often weeks, Utahns experience when applying for unemployment benefits, Millner said.
“The system is overwhelmed but they’re working as quickly as they can to respond to all those people,” she said. “Their process will still take some time just because of the situation that we’re in right now.”
One of 21 bills to be discussed throughout the next few days in the legislature’s special session, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate and now goes to the House of Representatives for approval, then to Gov. Herbert.