FILE - Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, points to a member of his team after taking part in a debate with Loren Culp, a Republican, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. 

(The Center Square) — Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Sunday Washington will pay out $54 million in one-time payments to thousands of Washingtonians who stand to lose federal jobless benefits.

The governor’s office estimates that 94,555 people in the state received benefits through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program which offered financial aid to workers whose jobs were lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, including independent contractors and self-employed workers.

Recipients will now see a lapse in weekly payments following President Trump's failure on Saturday to sign a $908 billion relief bill passed by a wide margin in Congress last week which extends PUA benefits through March 14, 2021. Trump signed the bill into law late Sunday.

Washington PUA recipients will get $550 under the state's one-time stimulus, the Washington Security Employment Department reports. The average weekly PUA payment was $600.

People who chose to withhold taxes from their other benefit payments will pocket $495 while another $55 will be withheld for taxes, the ESD announced Sunday.

The one-time payment will be issued by the ESD to all PUA claimants who were in active status the week ending November 21 and will total $550 per claimant or two weeks of benefits for most PUA recipients. 

“This does not solve all the problems caused by the president’s inaction — we are doing what we can, but we simply do not have the ability to replace all of the unemployment supports in the relief package,” Inslee said. “However, for some people in our state who have been receiving PUA benefits, this will prevent an immediate loss of assistance at a time when they are most in need.”

PUA recipients can expect to receive their one-time payment around December 30, according to the ESD. No application is required.

The news follows Inslee's extension of Washington's eviction moratorium last Wednesday from December 31, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The relief package signed by Trump on Sunday also extends the national eviction moratorium through January 31.

The moratorium's extension may not be enough for many Washington renters who are still struggling to keep up with bills 10 months into the pandemic.

Kristine Nelson of Bellingham is one such renter and says she has never needed to ask for a rent break in the eight years she has been one until December.

Nelson and her landlord agreed some weeks ago on a half payment this month until landlords or tenants see any kind of government aid. After that, she will pay back what she owes.

Her local rent assistance organization has her on a waitlist she expects to be on for some time and she saw the last of her savings dry up before March. She also has an appointment for utility assistance set for late February.

Without an official record of non-payment, struggling renters are largely ineligible for any type of rental assistance—something Nelson says she worked so hard to avoid.

Nelson says she is on food stamps and gets weekly pickups from the local food bank, but more bills are stacking up every day, including medication for her 20-year-old cat.

“At this point I'm not sure if I can even pay half rent, and I have no idea how I'll handle it if there is no back pay,” Nelson said.

Nelson worked in live music and says she expects work to pick back up by late 2021 at the earliest if the COVID-19 pandemic rages on for months more.

Like other governors around the country, Inslee has been at odds with what he describes as mixed messaging from federal authorities about the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the state.

The statewide unemployment rate for Washington stood at 6% in November, the ESD reported as thousands of businesses are at risk of closing forever in 2021.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.