May 05 2020

Bicameral Delegation Releases Framework For Legislation Tying Expanded Unemployment Benefits To Public Health Emergency And Economic Conditions

Discussion draft of automatic triggers bill anticipates monthly jobs report expected to show unemployment skyrocketed in April

Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) today released a draft framework for the Worker Relief and Security Act, legislation that would tie ongoing expanded unemployment benefits to the public health emergency and economic conditions. The bill would use automatic triggers to ensure that assistance continues to flow to workers for the duration of the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis even in the absence of action by Congress.

“In the face of an historic crisis, the federal government must take extraordinary steps to give the American people sustained help and prevent this economic downturn from becoming a depression,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “This pandemic and the resulting economic crisis may continue to inflict horrifying suffering on the country for many months to come. Passing emergency relief legislation that incorporates automatic triggers would have the enormous benefit of ensuring assistance continues to flow to workers even if Congress itself is unable or unwilling to act. I have had many conversations with colleagues about the ideas contained here, and expect them to receive strong consideration in ongoing discussions about future pandemic response legislation.”

Beyer serves as Vice Chair of the Joint Economic Committee, which released a report last week arguing that “tying support to economic conditions is essential.”

"When an economic crisis hits, people lose their livelihoods. Congress needs an unemployment insurance system that is there when people need it so they and the overall economy are automatically stabilized.  Our proposal is data-driven and targeted to give people, businesses, and communities a boost of needed stability and certainty, and offers critical resources to help out of work Americans get back on their feet and get our economy working again,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).

“We are going to be climbing out of a deep economic hole, and we need to maintain support for workers and families until the economy is back to full strength,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). “Our plan will strengthen unemployment benefits to sustain people whose lives have been upended through no fault of their own until they can safely go back to work.”

“Since the onset of this pandemic, we’ve seen a repetition of the scene from Jaws where they acknowledge, ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat.’  That’s why the New Democrat Coalition believes automatic stabilizers need to be built into coronavirus response and recovery assistance programs to trigger assistance when and where we need it, and ensure a sustainable and robust economic recovery,” said New Democrat Coalition Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA). “I applaud Rep. Don Beyer and Senators Reed and Bennet for their leadership on the Worker Relief and Security Act to trigger continued unemployment compensation benefits tied to the duration and economic impacts of this crisis. The nature of this pandemic and economic crisis is unprecedented and has created enormous uncertainty for the American people.  A bold step like this can provide some much-needed predictability.”

“An unthinkable 30 million American workers have already been displaced by the pandemic and the count continues to rise. They need relief and support for as long as the job market remains weak. That’s not only fair. It’s essential to support an economic recovery. The Worker Relief and Security Act is important because it guarantees that the CARES Act’s critical unemployment benefits will remain in place for however long they’re needed,” said Dr. Janet Yellen, former Chair of the Federal Reserve.

“The enhanced jobless benefits in the CARES Act are a lifeline for the millions of unemployed workers. Many families will struggle until we are safe to leave our homes and feel secure enough to spend again, and no one knows when that will happen. Legislation like the Worker Relief and Security Act, which uses objective measures such as the unemployment rate, commits Congress to continue relief to the unemployed and their families until they can safely return to work. Relief that depends on economic conditions, rather the passage of time, is what families need right now. Passing a bill with these triggers would represent a major step toward economic recovery,” said Claudia Sahm, Director of Macroeconomic Policy for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

"The Worker Relief and Security Act is a carefully crafted set of policies to ensure that those who are out of work due to the COVID-19 emergency continue to receive the support they need until the emergency is over and the economy reopens. It will help to limit the damage to workers and households and to support our economy in recovering quickly,"  said Jesse Rothstein, former Chief Economist of U.S. Department of Labor (2010), Professor of Public Policy and Economics and Director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at U.C. Berkeley.

"While there's a lot of debate about when and how to lift social distancing rules, there's no question that the economic pain unleashed by the COVID19 crisis will continue for many months ahead. Withdrawing the lifeline of enhanced unemployment support provided by the CARES Act would be a terrible unforced error. America needs a well thought out set of public health and economic indicators to decide when and how to phase down aid like the pandemic unemployment assistance program for gig workers and the extra $600 per week, and we welcome the thoughtful proposals in the Worker Relief and Security Act," said Andrew Stettner, Senior Fellow of the Century Foundation.

"With the economy in crisis, it is absolutely crucial that we build a better safety net for marginalized and low-income households. The Worker Relief and Security Act provides strongly-targeted support for the millions of families that have been impacted by COVID-19 and, most importantly, requires that support to continue until the economy recovers. Congress should include this in the next stimulus legislation so that our economy can return to strong job growth and to ensure that families and the most vulnerable get the support they need," said Arnab Datta, Senior Advisor at Employ America.

“This bill ensures that critical benefit expansions for unemployed workers last as long as the economy is shut down for the pandemic. It clarifies coverage under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for groups of workers, including contract educational employees, who are disproportionately women of color, and immigrant workers. These benefits are particularly important to workers who cannot work remotely but who are remaining at home to help combat this pandemic. The racial equity implications of this extension are crucial, since fewer than 1 in 5 Black workers and 1 in 6 Latinx workers have jobs where they can work at home. NELP is proud to support this extension of the essential protections we advocated for in the CARES Act,” said Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project.

"During and following crisis after crisis, policymakers have consistently shrunk, weakened, and terminated emergency support for workers and families far too soon, causing needless and lasting human suffering. The Worker Relief and Security Act thoughtfully yet automatically strengthens unemployment benefits--a lifeline for many millions of working people and their families when we most need them to stay at home—and offers some hope that at least some of our leaders have learned from those tragic mistakes of the past," said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the unemployment rate will average 15 percent into the fall of 2020, a rate not seen since the Great Depression, and remain at or near double digits through 2021.

The Worker Relief and Security Act would use automatic triggers to ensure that those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic or resulting economic damage receive sustained government assistance for the duration of the crisis, rather than ending at an arbitrary date set by Congress.

The draft legislative framework is available here, with a factsheet here and explanatory charts here.

The legislation specifies that for the duration of extreme social distancing (tied to the President’s emergency declaration issued in March or a governor’s declaration), workers will face no limits on the benefits they can currently receive under the CARES Act, and benefits will continue for the duration of an economic crisis:

  • A worker who exhausts their traditional unemployment compensation benefits (funded by the state) will be able to receive additional unemployment benefits fully financed by the federal government without limit until 26 weeks after the end of extreme social distancing.
  • A worker receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits for those who do not qualify for traditional UI will also not face limits on the number of weeks they can draw benefits until 26 weeks after the end of the Public Health Emergency.
  • Workers receiving the extra $600 in weekly benefits will continue to receive it until 30 days after the end of the President’s emergency declaration, after which it will begin to phase down over 13 weeks.

Workers in states with extraordinary unemployment or elevated levels of unemployment would be eligible for additional benefits on top of regular benefits based on the 3-month average of the state’s unemployment rate. The bill would also fix the PUA program to ensure workers who fall between the cracks of the traditional unemployment assistance do not fall between the cracks of the program meant to support them.