Beyer Speaks Plainly about the Congressional Response to the Coronavirus and Public Outrage over the Killing of George Floyd

Congress “needs to do a lot more” to help the economy. Peaceful protesters are reacting with “all the fury that we should.”

Jun 03 2020

Washington, D.C.—On Monday morning, during a taped, 20-minute interview with Mark Thompson, the host of the popular podcast “Make It Plain,” Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), the Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), praised the Congressional response to the coronavirus recession, including recent improvements to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to ensure that small businesses most in need of relief get it.

“I think Congress so far has acted pretty quickly and pretty well to help,” Beyer told Thompson. “We need to do a lot more.”

“We realized in that first big tranche of money we were sending to small businesses that bigger small businesses, the ones with 100, 200 employees, were getting all the money,” Beyer said about PPP. “And [now] we’re trying to get it to the [small businesses] that most need it that may not have the great banking relationship and the expensive lawyer.”

Since the interview was taped just a day after weekend protests across the nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, Congressman Beyer also talked with Thompson about his thoughts on the incident—praising peaceful protesters who are reacting with “all the fury that we should.”

“It was so unnecessary,” Congressman Beyer said about the killing of George Floyd, “and it wasn’t accidental—it was murder.”

The full interview was released today and can be listened to here. Below are additional excerpts from the interview, some of which have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Congressional Response to Coronavirus

Thompson (Host): You mentioned the economy, Congressman Beyer, and the peril in which it’s in. Massive unemployment and then businesses thinking about reopening, some businesses will never come back. Give us in your words the state of the economy now and the potential state going forward. What can be done? What options can we have? How can there be a rebuilding, even knowing that this thing might come back? I mean, how do you even plan?

Beyer: Well, I think Congress so far has acted pretty quickly and pretty well to help. We have 40 million people unemployed. It wasn’t this long slow recession, we just shut down all these businesses overnight and threw people out of work. But we have the Paycheck Protection Program which has put like $700 billion into small businesses, we’ve extended unemployment insurance for a record number of people, we’ve sent the individual checks to families—$1200 per person.

And the Democratic House—led by Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn—we passed the CARES Act two-and-a-half weeks ago which does a lot more: $6,000 more per family, keeps unemployment insurance into 2021, does a lot of really good things. They’ve got to get through Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump’s got to sign it and that’s not sure.

But, Mark, the big things that concern me most, and I have this wonderful economist on the Joint Economic Committee, Kyle Moore, who put this together and he did a whole study on the impact of the coronavirus on the working people of America and on people of color. No surprise, if you are black or brown there’s a much greater likelihood of getting sick, much greater likelihood you’ll die, and a much greater likelihood that you lost your job.

Thompson (Host): Yeah, no, that’s real. And obviously Congress has passed legislation that has been helpful and, I guess the plan is as this goes forward to even do more legislation, correct?

Beyer: Yep, we need to do a lot more. One of the things that we can celebrate is the CARES Amendment Act that came a couple weeks later. We realized in that first big tranche of money we were sending to small businesses that bigger small businesses, the ones with 100, 200 employees, were getting all the money and the barber shops and the little construction firms and the grocery stores, like with 10 and less, 20 and less, they weren’t getting almost any of it. So we dedicated the first $75 billion just to small businesses with 10 or less. And we’re trying to get it to the people that most need it that may not have the great banking relationship and the expensive lawyer.

Protests

Thompson (Host): Top of mind for most of us, and I’m sure top of mind for you, is what’s been going on in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. First of all, Congressman, what was your reaction when you first heard that news and saw that video?

Beyer: I was just heartbroken, Mark. It was so unnecessary, and it wasn’t accidental—it was murder. You know, the poor guy’s there pleading for his life, for his breathing, and once again over something as trivial as a possibly counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes. You know, this is just the kind of thing where if he actually had done something wrong, give him a ticket for $50, make him appear in court in 90 days.

This was just insane and it’s on top of so many other things. Thank goodness that we have smartphones so that we see what’s happening again and again with Christian Cooper, with Ahmaud Arbery, you know. But I think we can’t be naive, this has been going on for hundreds of years for people in the African-American community in America and so much of it has been covered up, swept under the rug. Now at least we’re being able to document it and react with all the fury that we should.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to Switzerland and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), released the following statement after the Department of Labor reported that 1.9 million workers filed regular first-time unemployment claims (not seasonally adjusted) for the week ending May 23. An additional 1.2 million filed for benefits under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for gig workers and others. In total, 3.1 million people filed new unemployment claims. (The seasonally adjusted regular UI claims number was 2.1 million.)

This is the 10th week in a row that new unemployment claims have exceeded two million.

“Even as the country begins to reopen,” said Congressman Beyer, “the economy continues to hemorrhage jobs. In fact, for 10 straight weeks new unemployment claims have been far worse than anything on record.

“Reopening the economy too soon will not be the recession remedy that Republicans expect it will be if Americans are still afraid for their lives because the coronavirus is not yet contained. A recent study found that statewide social distancing orders only account for a quarter of the unemployment insurance claims filed between March 14 and April 4 and that a collapse in consumer confidence, self-imposed social distancing and supply chain disruptions account for the rest.

“Although President Trump continues to lie about his response to the pandemic being better than it has, we all know the truth—over 100,000 Americans are dead and over 40 million have lost their jobs.”

Last week, JEC Democrats released a report titled “Reopening Too Soon Will Have Steep Economic Costs.” As the report explains, Americans oppose businesses prematurely returning to normal operations by wide margins. One poll found that over two in three Americans would not feel comfortable in a retail store, while three in four would not feel comfortable in a restaurant. Another poll found that 81 percent of Americans would not feel safe returning to the workplace if their state reopens.

JEC Democrats also released an issue brief last week that explains why using the not seasonally adjusted number of unemployment claims filed each week—instead of the seasonally adjusted number—makes the most sense during a period of massive layoffs.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to Switzerland and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

Washington, D.C.—Today on Twitter, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, responded to a news report about the White House's refusal to release updated economic projections this summer—breaking precedent, according to Administration sources, because the economy is too volatile.

According to experts, this is the first time since at least the 1970s that a White House has refused to release these projections, which would be made public a few months ahead of the November election.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), released a report, “Reopening Too Soon Will Have Steep Economic Costs,” drawing together evidence and expert opinion that highlights how reopening the economy prematurely may not only cause substantial damage to it but also prolong the recession. Currently, all states have begun lifting stay-at-home and social distancing orders even though almost none have met the White House’s guidelines for reopening.

“Every major economist I have talked with says the same thing—the number one priority for the economy is to contain the coronavirus and re-opening too soon may prolong the recession,” Congressman Beyer said. “The President, who recklessly suggested that Americans inject disinfectant to cure themselves of the coronavirus, has shown little understanding of public health – and in some ways less understanding of the economy. One depends on the other. This is not rocket science. The President’s ignorance of these issues will continue to cost us dearly.”

As the report explains, Americans oppose businesses returning to normal operations by wide margins. One poll found that over two in three Americans would not feel comfortable in a retail store, while three in four would not feel comfortable in a restaurant. Another poll found that 81 percent of Americans would not feel safe returning to the workplace if their state reopens.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to Switzerland and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), released the following statement after the Department of Labor (DOL) reported that 2.2 million workers filed regular first-time unemployment claims (not seasonally adjusted) for the week ending May 16 and another 2.2 million filed for benefits under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for gig workers and others. In total, 4.4 million people filed new unemployment claims. (The seasonally adjusted regular UI claims number was 2.4 million.)

“It’s horrific that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he does not feel the ‘urgency’ of providing relief to families when tens of millions of workers have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two months, including more than one-third of the workforce in his home state of Kentucky. This is the definition of out of touch—and it’s cruel.

“Economists and other policy experts agree that staying home to stop the spread of the virus is the most important priority not only for public health but the economy. This means Congress needs to provide relief to families for as long as the pandemic lasts. Congress also must do the same for small businesses—the heart and soul of our economy—because helping them now will ensure that we can create jobs later. We are all in this together.

“The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program extended benefits to workers previously not eligible, including self-employed, gig workers and others. Congress made the right move by expanding eligibility for these workers and the millions who have filed for benefits under this program are proof."

Yesterday, ahead of the DOL’s report on first-time unemployment claims, JEC Democrats released a brief that explains why including those who file for PUA benefits is necessary to understand how many Americans in total are filing for unemployment. In addition, the brief explains why using the actual number of unemployment claims filed each week—as opposed to the seasonally adjusted number—makes the most sense during a period of massive layoffs.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to Switzerland and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), released the following statement in response to Federal Reserve data showing that manufacturing output declined by 13.7% in April, the largest decline on record. 

“The President has failed to lead an adequate response against the coronavirus, resulting in many more cases, deaths, and job losses and a serious recession. Manufacturing is taking a hard hit because of him. Families in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana and other states where manufacturing jobs make up a disproportionate share of the labor market are going to suffer because he has refused to use the vast powers of the U.S. presidency.

“Well before the coronavirus’s impact our economy, the ‘blue collar boom’ President Trump spoke of during the State of the Union in January was really a blue collar bust. The manufacturing industry has been struggling since the beginning of 2019 and—until a few months ago—that was in large part because President Trump’s trade war with China had stymied supply chains and his tax cuts had not resulted in the pay increases he promised.

“Now manufacturing has gone from bad to worse because of President Trump’s horrible handling of a once-in-a-generation public health crisis.”

In March, JEC Democrats released a report titled “What ‘Blue Collar Boom’?” about President Trump’s counterfactual claim. The report includes detailed data about how—prior to the coronavirus—job growth had slowed in the manufacturing industry, with states that rely most heavily on the industry losing jobs and hourly earnings for typical workers (production and nonsupervisory) only increasing by 23 cents.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and Ambassador to Switzerland and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), the Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), released the following statement after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nonfarm payroll employment fell by 20.5 million in April and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%. The unemployment rate was 16.7 % for Black workers and 18.9 % for Latino workers.

Job losses in April were more than 25 times worse than the worst month of the Great Recession. Since the federal government began tracking the unemployment rate in 1948, the highest national unemployment rate ever recorded by BLS was 10.8% in 1982. In just the month of April, the unemployment rate increased by 10.3 percentage points. Unemployment at the height of the Great Depression was 24.9%. 

“We have not seen horrible, history-making numbers like these since the Great Depression.

“In two months, almost a decade’s worth of job growth has been wiped out, the unemployment rate has more than quadrupled, and more than 75,000 Americans have died because President Trump did not take seriously multiple early warnings about the global threat of the coronavirus and failed to lead a competent fight against it. This is President Trump’s economic legacy—cracks in the economy as a result of his trade wars and tax cuts have now split wide open as a result of his ignorance and incompetence.

“It could be months before the tens of millions of Americans who have lost their jobs are able to return to work. If we expect them to stay home to stop the spread of the virus, then we need to make sure they can take care of themselves and their loved ones for as long as the public health and economic crises last.

“A legislative proposal I introduced this week with Senators Reed and Bennet would extend unemployment benefits until states’ unemployment rates drop to acceptable levels. We should not penalize people for not having a job when there are no jobs to be had. I hope the legislation is included in the next coronavirus relief package.”

This week, Congressman Beyer and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) released a draft legislative proposal for the Worker Relief and Security Act, legislation that would ensure that assistance for unemployed workers continues automatically for the duration of the public health crisis even in the absence of action by Congress. The legislation has been endorsed by Janet Yellen and other leading economists, as well as top House Democrats.

A recent report released by JEC Democrats on the importance of making assistance for unemployed workers continuous can be found here.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served at Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and Ambassador to Switzerland and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

Today Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) welcomed the support of Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) for the Worker Relief and Security Act. Beyer, who serves as Vice Chair of the Joint Economic Committee, introduced the legislative framework for the bill, which would tie expanded unemployment benefits to the ongoing public health emergency and national and state unemployment levels, earlier this week. The Senate leads are Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). The cosponsorships of the two chairmen follow endorsements from leading economists and policy experts.

“My colleagues and I feel a deep sense of urgency to not only get the American people the help they need during this pandemic, but also to make sure it is sustained for as long as they need it,” said Joint Economic Committee Vice Chair Don Beyer (D-VA). “Leaders in the House, former Fed Chairs and economic policy leaders, and top economists agree that automatic triggers are a strong approach to keep help flowing to workers for the duration of the public health and economic crisis. I thank Chairmen Yarmuth and Scott for their support, and welcome their advocacy as we make the case for the Worker Relief and Support Act to the larger Caucus and its leaders.”

“In the face of an historic crisis, the federal government must do what it takes to support the American people and make this economic downturn as short and shallow as possible,” said Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY), Chairman of the House Budget Committee. “To avoid repeating the mistakes of previous recovery efforts, we must ensure that workers, families, businesses, and communities have access to critical aid until a strong recovery is underway. As the Budget Committee explored in a recent report, by incorporating automatic triggers into COVID relief legislation, we can provide American families, localities, and states with a sense of stability since federal assistance will be tied to economic conditions – not politics of the moment. This bill provides a thoughtful approach to a crucial component of our fiscal response to this crisis.”

“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.”

"Expanded and extended unemployment insurance is the most important economic response to the crisis we are in today,” said former Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman. “It is critical that it continue as long as it is needed. Unfortunately in the past, Congress has allowed expanded unemployment insurance to lapse prematurely, most recently in the wake of the global financial crisis even when long-term unemployment was at near record levels. That is why the Worker Relief and Security Act is so critical, because it would ensure that assistance is continued as long as it is needed, something that would be good for workers and also good for the macroeconomy as a whole, helping to speed the recovery and healing of the economy. Rather than pretending we know exactly what will happen in our economic future, the legislation smartly makes support and assistance contingent on what actually happens. This approach is long overdue."

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.

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

May 05 2020

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.

Leading Economists And Policy Experts Back Worker Relief And Support Act

Legislative framework tying expanded unemployment benefits to public health emergency and economic conditions earns support of former Treasury Secretary, Fed Chairs, top economists

May 05 2020

This morning Joint Economic Committee Vice Chair Don Beyer (D-VA) and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) unveiled the legislative framework for the Worker Relief and Support Act. Leading economists and policy experts swiftly backed the legislation, which would use automatic triggers to ensure that expanded unemployment benefits continue to flow to workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic for the duration of the public health and economic crisis.

Former Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew:

"Crushing levels of unemployment are likely to linger even as some businesses start to open, and workers who lose their jobs need unemployment benefits until the job market gets close to pre-crisis levels.  Extending unemployment benefits will bolster the economy and protect millions of households from financial ruin and serious hardship.  The Worker Relief and Security Act importantly recognizes the need to maintain critical unemployment benefit expansions while there are simply not sufficient jobs available for everyone looking for work, and to phase the benefits out as the economy approaches normal so workers can either return to their old jobs or find new ones."

Former Chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen:

“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.”

Former Chair of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke:

“I strongly support a plan that would tie the generosity of unemployment benefits to measures of the unemployment rate. Such an approach delivers help quickly and automatically as needed, without Congress having to act, and likewise winds down extra assistance as conditions improve. This approach would not only help the unemployed in a timely way, it would also tend to stabilize the broader economy by increasing purchasing power in times of high unemployment.”

National Economic Advisor to President Obama and President Clinton, Gene Sperling:

"If we are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure the economic dignity and security of our workers and families during this nearly unprecedented crisis, the single most important policy may be an extension of a robust unemployment benefit that is tied not to an arbitrary date, but to when our job market and public health response is strong enough to let tens of millions safely return to work.  Ensuring that all workers who are jobless, or facing reduced hours due to the crisis, have a benefit that helps them pay their bills, stay in their homes, and support themselves and their families must be our first priority both in terms of our values and economic common sense. Bold ideas to ensure more Americans stay on the payrolls of their employers if done fairly and effectively can also be a critical policy tool for achieving these vital goals, but even those important policies must be a complement not substitute to a national commitment to tying the length and robustness of unemployment benefits to the health of our labor market."

Director of Macroeconomic Policy for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth Claudia Sahm:

“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.”

Former U.S. Department of Labor Chief Economist (2014-2017) and Economic Policy Institute Senior Economist and Director of Policy Heidi Shierholz:

“In just the first six weeks of the coronavirus crisis, close to 30 million workers applied for unemployment insurance benefits. That is more than five times the worst stretch of the Great Recession and all else equal, it would translate into an unemployment rate of over 20%.  The modifications that the CARES Act made to the nation’s unemployment insurance system are an utterly crucial lifeline for tens of millions of workers. The Worker Relief and Security Act is an essential set of policies that guarantees these critical provisions do not expire at an arbitrary date but instead stay in place while the economy, and the workers and families in it, still need them.“

Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Former Chief Economist at the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Chad Stone:
“The call to tie emergency UI benefits to health and economic conditions not arbitrary calendar dates has been answered… The Worker Relief and Security Act addresses 3 key components of enhanced/modernized UI: additional weeks of coverage based on state and national unemployment rates, higher benefit amounts, and expanded eligibility.”

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 Jesse Rothstein:

"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."

Senior Fellow of the Century Foundation Andrew Stettner:

"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.”

Senior Advisor at Employ America Arnab Datta:

"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."

Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project Rebecca Dixon:

“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.”

Co-Executive Director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality Indivar Dutta-Gupta:

"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."

Former Senior Advisor and Economist at the U.S. Treasury Department Ernie Tedeschi:

“This is a great proposal. It puts triggers on the extension of PUA/PUC so that if things stay bad in a state, workers still get emergency help.”

Praise from former Council of Economic Advisors Staff Economist Kevin Rinz, former Member of Council of Economic Advisers Jay Shambaugh, and Roosevelt Institute Fellow Michael Linden.

The legislative proposal also earned a swift endorsement from Rep. Derek Kilmer, Chair of the New Democrat Coalition, the largest ideological caucus in the House of Representatives. Kilmer and the New Democrat Coalition have been leading advocates for using automatic stabilizers to keep assistance flowing during the pandemic.

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.