HOUSTON – Hundreds of thousands of Texans are now receiving $300 a week in addition to their unemployment benefits from the state. These are federal FEMA funds used in the Lost Wages Assistance program passed by President Trump after the $600 weekly boost from the feds expired at the end of July. Consumer expert Amy Davis is answering some of your questions about who qualifies for the money and how you can get it if you are out of work.
Q: Who qualifies for the Lost Wages Assistance program and the weekly $300 benefit?
A: In order to be eligible for the Lost Wages Assistance program, claimants must certify that they are unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19, and they must receive at least a $100 dollars in benefits per week. If you receive less than $100 a week in unemployment from Texas, you do not qualify.
Q: How do I apply for the extra $300 per week?
A: If you are already receiving unemployment benefits, you do NOT need to do anything to receive the extra $300 dollars from the Lost Wages Assistance program. You do not need to call TWC. If you meet the criteria stated above, you will receive the $300. Continue requesting payments, and TWC will generate the extra payments if you are eligible. If you are just now applying for unemployment, you must make it clear on your applications that you are unemployed or have lost wages because of COVID-19. If you are already collecting unemployment and were out of work for reasons not related to COVID-19, but now can not get work because of COVID-19, when you request your next payment, you need to certify that you are now unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19.
Q: How many Texans collecting unemployment are eligible for the Lost Wages Assistance program?
A: The number varies week by week; but according to Cisco Gamez with the Texas Workforce Commission, for the week of August 24th, out of approximately 1.7 million Texans that collected unemployment benefits, about 300,000 were not eligible to get the extra $300 boost.
Q: Since the $600 weekly federal unemployment boost expired at the end of July, will this new weekly $300 boost be paid retroactively?
A: Yes. If you qualify, you can get the $300 boost for the last 5 weeks beginning with the week ending August 1, 2020. People that are eligible for the Lost Wages Assistance program that requested benefits last week, for the weeks ending August 15th and 22nd received Lost Wages Assistance benefits for the weeks ending August 1st, 8th and 15th. Lost Wages Assistance benefits for the week ending August 22 will be available on their next payment request.
Q: How long will people be receiving the $300 benefit?
A: The Texas Workforce Commission does not know. Texas requests funds from FEMA every week; and has no control over when the federal funds will be disbursed
or how much funding will be provided by FEMA. The Texas Workforce Commission will continue to use federal funds to pay for the Lost Wages Assistance program until the funding ends, new legislation is passed or the program expires.
Q: I qualify for the LWA dating all the way back to the week that ended August 1st, but I am missing one of the $300 payments. Why?
A: The schedule for the Lost Wages Assistance program is different from TWC’s normal payment schedule.
FEMA’s process for releasing funds does not line up exactly with TWC’s payment system. The difference in the payment schedule will appear as if you a missing a payment, but you are not.
Q: Are these benefits taxable?
A: Yes. You can ask the state to withhold 10% of your benefits for taxes so you won’t owe so much on your next tax bill. Tax withholding is completely voluntary; withholding taxes is not required. If you ask TWC to withhold taxes, they will withhold 10 percent of the gross amount of each payment before sending it to you.
To start or stop federal tax withholding for unemployment benefit payments:
• Choose your withholding option when you apply for benefits online through Unemployment Benefits Services.
• Review and change your withholding status by logging onto Unemployment Benefits Services and selecting “IRS Tax Information” from the Quick Links menu on the My Home page.
• Review and change your withholding status by calling Tele-Serv and selecting Option 2, then Option 5.
• Complete and return TWC’s federal tax withholding form.
You can read more about unemployment benefits and federal income taxes here.