A baker’s dozen of Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill are demanding that reforms to unemployment insurance be included in the Build Back Better Act, which is President Joe Biden’s gigantic $3.5 trillion spending proposal.
In a letter sent on Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and United States Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Congresswomen Cory Bush (MO) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) wrote that “the current state of the unemployment system is a threat to all communities, especially Black and brown communities, in many of the states we represent. As of now, there are no provisions to reform the unemployment system. We strongly urge Congress to include such improvements before the Build Back Better Act comes for a vote in the House and Senate.”
The pair argued that the temporary revisions to unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as the foundation for additional reforms, as millions of displaced workers – especially those of color – remain ineligible through no fault of their own. Additionally, scores of unemployed Americans living in Republican-led had their benefits cut off prematurely under the false guise that unemployment insurance hampers economic growth. They did not, however, call for an extension of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that expired earlier this month.
“Our nation is now left with a system that denies life-saving resources to over two-thirds of our unemployed neighbors and that covers less than half of lost wages. In some cases, nine out of every ten jobless workers have no unemployment benefits. There are many causes for workers being excluded from the system — from broad eligibility issues that preclude the self-employed from accessing benefits — to more specific barriers that block mainly low-wage and part-time workers from receiving benefits even after taxes have been paid into the system on their behalf,” the letter states.
“Furthermore, the effect of this exclusion is felt most harshly by workers of color, who disproportionately live in the states with the lowest UI coverage rates and work in the jobs with the least access to unemployment benefits. For example, even as Black workers have been nearly twice as likely to be unemployed compared to white workers, a lower percentage of Black applicants receive UI benefits. President Biden’s FY 2022 Budget calls out these ‘enormous racial disparities in UI benefit receipt’ in making the case for reforming the entire system,” it continues, stressing that workers should not be penalized or left to suffer while they are struggling to find decent-paying jobs.
“We are proud of the many provisions in the Build Back Better Act designed to promote economic opportunity, security, and fairness for all. For this reason, we believe that unemployment insurance reform is an essential component to this objective and must not be left out. Congress should set a floor for UI duration that states must follow, broadly include part-time workers, ban exclusions based on past wages, and require alternative base periods. A strong and responsive UI system not only helps our entire economy more quickly and equitably recover from future recessions, it is also an essential tool to help dislocated workers stay connected to the workforce and to provide for their families as they seek new employment,” the letter concludes. “We believe it is vitally important to include unemployment insurance improvements in the Build Back Better Act, and we look forward to working with you to achieve that goal and protect the livelihoods of the millions of workers who rely on these crucial benefits.”
Representatives Jerry Nadler (NY), Barbara Lee (CA), Sylvia Garcia (TX), Yvette Clark (NY), Sara Jacobs (CA), Mondaire Jones (NY), Frederica Wilson (FL), Andrè Carson (IN), Jamie Raskin (MD), Nikema Williams (GA), and Ilhan Omar (MN) also signed onto the letter.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.