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Joint Economic Committee Democrats Chairman - Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)

House Democrats Introduce Legislation To Strengthen And Reform Unemployment Insurance

U.S. Representatives Don Beyer (D-VA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Cori Bush (D-MO), and Scott Peters (D-CA) today announced the introduction of the Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act, H.R. 5507, legislation to strengthen the delivery of benefits to unemployed American workers. The bill would require states to provide a minimum 26 weeks of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, cover part-time workers, and update wage record rules and administration standards to make benefits more accessible to applicants.

“The coronavirus pandemic caused swift and widespread economic devastation that continues to expose major weaknesses in America’s unemployment system,” said Rep. Beyer. “Far too many American workers who lost their jobs had to wait for months as their applications moved through outdated and difficult-to-navigate systems for benefits that still are not good enough in many states. Our legislation would update and strengthen unemployment benefits, establish minimum standards for duration of those benefits, expand coverage so it reaches more of those who need help, and raise the bar to make programs more accessible. It is long past time to bring our outdated unemployment system into the 21st Century, and our bill would be a big step in that direction.”

Beyer serves as Chair of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, which has issued numerous publications on the importance of unemployment benefits to the recovery and the need to strengthen the UI system to advance economic growth that is stronger, stable, and more broadly shared.

“Our unemployment insurance system provided a lifeline to millions during the worst of this crisis, keeping many families out of poverty and helping to sustain our economy,” said Rep. Sherrill. “However, the pandemic also shined a light on the inadequacies of the current system, with administrative and accessibility barriers preventing the timely delivery of benefits to those who needed them most and making it difficult to effectively prevent fraud. This legislation makes critical reforms to modernize and streamline our outdated UI systems across the country. Doing so will ensure that families are able to access their UI benefits when they are out of work and will help the system to perform better and more reliably for everyone who finds themselves in need in the future.”

The Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act is supported by 134 organizations, including AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, the Economic Policy Institute, Employ America, the National Urban League, the National Employment Law Project, the National Organization for Women, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“Congress acted boldly and decisively to supplement state unemployment benefits, a critical economic lifeline for workers and families struggling to put food on the table, pay their rent, and care for their children,” said Congressman Jimmy Gomez. “However, the pandemic exposed a broken system that failed workers – especially low-paid workers, women, and workers of color – when they needed it the most. Our legislation makes critical reforms to ensure a more robust and equitable unemployment system.”

A large body of evidence continues to show that unemployment benefits do not have a significant impact on overall labor force participation.

“In some places in our country, nine out of every ten jobless workers have no unemployment benefits,” said Congresswoman Bush. “Black and brown workers are disproportionately shut out of the very system that’s supposed to be there to help, particularly in states like Missouri where our Republican Governor canceled life saving benefits in the midst of a devastating pandemic. St. Louis sent me to Congress to ensure that we do the absolute most, starting with those who have the least. That’s why I’m proud to join Reps. Beyer and Ocasio-Cortez in introducing the Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act as part of our broader commitment to building a government that serves every single one of us.”

The bicameral legislation is the House companion to an identical bill recently introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

“The COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact exposed serious pitfalls in our nation’s unemployment insurance system,” said Rep. Peters. “Today, we introduced focused reforms that help fill these gaps. The legislation streamlines benefits across states and improves technological infrastructure to ensure greater access and reliability. We need to modernize unemployment insurance to make sure hard-working Americans receive the support they need when they lose a job.”

Text of the House legislation is available here, with a section by section here.