By Trevor Hunnicutt and Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Local officials who want to extend enhanced unemployment benefits can do so, the White House said on Tuesday, a day after the administration and U.S. Congress allowed a program to lapse which had boosted payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Programs providing up to $300 extra a week to millions of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic ended on Monday as the U.S. celebrated Labor Day.
Benefits were also available for people who normally do not qualify for state unemployment money, with checks going to those without jobs for an extended period of time and to "gig workers" who perform on-demand services, including as drivers, delivering groceries or providing childcare. Those people will be cut off entirely.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there are other options available for states to extend benefits to people in need.
"The message to these individuals is we're going to continue to have your back," she said.
The funding for extra jobless benefits had been provided as an economic stimulus measure in a series of bills following the COVID-19 pandemic, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed in March by Biden and his fellow Democrats. The administration never pushed for a nationwide extension.
Psaki said the White House would "continue to work with states where you're living to help them implement programs, including the distribution of the American Rescue Plan funding, so that you can get the assistance you need."
Republicans opposed the benefits, saying they would discourage work at a time when a record 10.1 million job openings were available, as of the end of June. Many governors cut off the extra payments in their states.
Still, there was little direct evidence the payments were the primary factor pushing people out of the labor force.
The White House is leaving the choice to the states and said it will work with them to access other funding from the stimulus bill or other sources if they want to expand unemployment benefits.
"Twenty-four states ended these benefits already," she told reporters aboard Air Force One.
"There's 26 states left. All of those states are not in the same economic circumstances. Their unemployment rate ranges from 3% to 7%, or about an average of 5%, and almost all if not all of those states have the funding and the ability to continue to implement additional benefits."
President Joe Biden has made engineering a recovery from the COVID-19 recession a key focus since taking office in January, but the rebound has faced obstacles from rising coronavirus cases to higher prices, lingering unemployment and a lack of available workers and supplies.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 235,000 jobs last month after surging 1.053 million in July, the Labor Department said on Friday. Economists had expected 728,000 new jobs.
(Editing by David Gregorio)