Leaders look for smoother rollout of COVID-19 aid as stimulus checks go out

After a rocky rollout of unemployment and other aid this spring, the commerce secretary expects an easier process this time around.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — With direct deposits of $600 beginning to arrive in bank accounts and with paper checks going in the mail, the head of the Arkansas Dept. of Commerce is counting on hard-earned experience to make other aspects of the $900-billion federal stimulus program run more smoothly than they did in the spring.

“When the first CARES Act came out, it was requiring us to build multiple systems from the ground up,” said Mike Preston, the state commerce secretary.

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In May, an apparent data security issue delayed the launch of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program designed to help freelancers and gig workers. Over the following weeks, fraud rings bogged down the tradition unemployment insurance system.

The bad news is obvious: The virus is still weighing down the economy, but the silver-lining is the spring I.T. headaches are solved.

“I’m hopeful that things go smoothly because it’s a matter of just changing the dates and the amounts. We have the new systems built,” said Preston.

Those dates and amounts became more clear Wednesday. The Treasury Department says some $600 payments went out Tuesday night and paper checks went in the mail Wednesday.

Congress faced a Jan. 15 deadline to get the money out the door to avoid complicating the next tax season.

Individuals making less than $75,000 a year and couples making less than $150,000 can expect the stimulus aid plus more for each dependent in the family.

The Democratic-led House took up President Trump’s offer to boost the cash up to $2,000, but changing the bill requires 60 votes in the Republican-controlled Senate. Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has blocked efforts to hold a vote, and GOP members have attempted to add other provisions and conditions requested by the President. That dispute all but buries the proposal.

Back in the House, 44 Republicans supported the boost, including Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), but the state’s other three House members voted “nay.”

RELATED: Senate GOP blocks Democratic push for Trump’s $2K checks

But beyond the one-time payments, those still facing eviction or stuck on long-term unemployment can count on some relief into the new year, and Preston says, if you’re in the system, hopefully, there are no hiccups.

“For the most part for most people who are either still on unemployment or have recently gone on it, it should not be too difficult,” he said.