As many of you know Republican governors have declared war on UI. 16 governors so far have announced they are opting out of federal programs, in order to force workers into unsafe and low paying jobs and punish the millions of workers who have not been able to secure employment yet, despite best efforts.
The list of states opting out of federal UI early has grown to 16 states, affecting more than 1 million unemployed and underemployed workers.
It's cruelty, plain and simple.
Can the federal government do something about this?
Yes. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) sent a letter to the US Secretary of Labor stating that the Department of Labor could save the PUA program, (the program providing benefits to self employed, gig workers, and other workers not eligible for UI). The letter states that the DOL has the legal power to keep that aid flowing due to specific wording in the CARES Act. NELP's letter also states that this same power does not apply to the $300 boost or PEUC. We reached out to allies at NELP to clarify whether they will be pushing the DOL to ensure all workers on PEUC can move to PUA if the PEUC program in their state ends.
Senator Bernie Sanders echoed this sentiment in a letter to Secretary Walsh today saying "Congress did not grant states the ability to strip PUA benefits away from vulnerable workers. As Secretary, you are obligated to ensure this aid gets to workers." His letter says that while the CARES Act left the FPUC and PEUC programs at the discretion of the state, the PUA program was not left up to the state and states cannot opt out of it. He also mentioned that the boost of $300 on PUA claims is included in that program and should be required.
Senator Ron Wyden has also been consistently releasing statements in support of the programs.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?
Speak to Press
If you are unemployed in one of the listed states, you can reach out to us on social media or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and join our press list. Reporters are covering this issue and want to speak to directly affected workers. If you are not comfortable speaking to press, but would like to tell your story, you can do so at Extendpua.org/sharestories
Email the White House
The more they hear from us, they more attention they will pay to this issue. The White House needs to speak out on this issue and the Department of Labor needs to take action.
Contact the White House at this link.
Here is a sample email you can send:
First, thank you for extending the much needed federal UI programs. They are imperative to me/my family surviving this pandemic. But now, as you know, they are under threat. I am writing to encourage the White House and the Department of Labor to take action on behalf of unemployed Americans. We have lost our jobs and our livelihoods through no fault of our own and now many Governors want to take away our last lifeline prematurely. You must save these programs. The states have no right to strip the federal PUA program (including the $300) from workers. You must save this program and the millions of workers on it so we can all recover from this pandemic together. If states are able to end the PEUC program, please also ensure long term unemployed workers can move into the PUA program.
(As always we encourage you to include 1-2 sentences about your personal situation. Are you unemployed? Underemployed? Have you been applying to jobs with no answer? Are there no jobs available? Do you have kids to take care of at home? Tell them what ending these programs would do for you specifically.)
Thank you for your time and attention to this important issue.
You can also tweet at leaders in the White House on Twitter, telling them to take immediate action to save the PUA program:
@POTUS @VP @USDOL @SecMartyWalsh @BrianDeeseNEC
Or Retweet our responses @ExtendPUA
Call your Senators
The more public pressure the Biden administration feels on this issue, the more likely they are to take action. Bernie Sanders has drafted a letter to the Department of Labor telling them they need to step in because Congress did not grant states the right to strip away federal benefits. Call your Senator and ask them to make a similar public statement in support of their unemployed workers.
You can find your Senator's contact information including DC and local phone numbers in our database here.
Here is a sample script you can use for your phone call.
My name is (name) and I am a constituent from (city, state or zip code). (If relevant to you, include 1-2 sentences about your own unemployment situation here and what would happen if federal UI benefits were taken from you.)
I am calling to ask the Senator to follow Senator Sanders lead and make a public statement encouraging the US Department of Labor to save the PUA program immediately. I am grateful to Congress for extending the federal UI programs, as they have been a lifeline for me and my family. Now some Governors are trying to take that away, but Congress did not grant states the ability to strip PUA benefits away from vulnerable workers. Please stand against this cruelty publicly and tell the DOL to take action immediately. Thank you for your time.
Corporations, their lobbyists, and corrupt politicians will not stop speaking out about this issue. We have to be just as loud. The only way to change the narrative is for workers to speak up. Join us by taking action. And, as always, there are more action items and resources at ExtendPUA.org. If you are in need of assistance please check ExtendPUA.org/help.
If these action items or information provided are helpful to you please consider donating to our organization here. We are run by unemployed workers who are also in pursuit of employment. The work here is done for free. We appreciate your support!
In Solidarity, Always,
Stephanie and The ExtendPUA.org Team
Here are some additional talking points you can use in your communication on this issue. Talking points courtesy of NELP:
ON SO-CALLED LABOR SHORTAGES
Blaming workers on this world-altering economic shifts and prematurely ending pandemic unemployment benefits will slow demand and therefore, slow hiring and full recovery.
Return-to-work bonuses can become a tool to coerce workers to accept substandard jobs, rather than enabling workers to pursue quality jobs that provide financial security.
● Workers are not accepting business as usual - there is no going back to normal after this world-altering traumatic pandemic. After the instability, wide-spread disregard for workers' safety and health, and exploitation in so many jobs was laid bare in this pandemic, we are seeing a major reassessment by workers of what conditions they are willing to accept on the job.
● In the immediate sense, many people cannot return to work because:
○ They are not yet fully vaccinated
○ They have childcare or other caregiving responsibilities (and this is part of why we see more men returning to work than women)
○ Many people are looking to change their field of work
○ For those actively looking for work - they seek better wages and conditions
○ Job seekers need money for gas, phone, internet, and electric bills and everything required to maintain a job search
○ Many higher income jobs take much longer to find, and to fill. Middle income and higher income workers are certainly not looking at UI benefits as a replacement to a full-time job.
● We cannot have a just recovery without ensuring that all jobs provide living wages, dignity and respect on the job, safe workplaces, and vital benefits like paid family, medical and sick leave.
● Workers should never have to settle for anything less, and it is on Congress to pass important bills like the Raise the Wage Act and the Families Act, and up to employers--including corporations who have amassed more wealth than ever in the past year--to create the conditions that are worthy of working people.
On States Cutting UI Prematurely
Unemployed people and their allies are advocating for broader fixes that will transform the UI system so that people will have the support they need in the next crisis and when the economy is stable – without worrying about these immoral attacks.
Anyone who is unemployed – even outside of a recession—is experiencing a crisis and the government has an opportunity in the The American Rescue Plan to deliver big, bold reforms.
States abruptly ending participation in the fully federally funded pandemic unemployment insurance programs that workers and their allies fought for, is cruel, ill-informed and calls for long-term repair of the nation’s unemployment programs.
● After the Great Recession, states that cut benefits recovered slower than those with stronger UI programs.
The crisis is far from over, especially in communities of color where UI rates are historically higher due to systemic racism.
● This move to end federally funded resources unfairly burdens Black workers, who have historically been deprived of resources in South Carolina and across the country.
● And in Montana, though the statewide unemployment rate is 3.8%, the indigenous unemployment rate in Montana remains as high as 13.3% in some tribes. High unemployment rates continue to plague several counties, including Big Horn and Glacier Counties (9%) and Lincoln County (8.4%). Clearly, the statewide unemployment rate is an insufficient indicator of the state’s real labor market conditions.
These lifeline funds are the people’s money and supposed to be available until September to ensure well-being and stability.
● These federal funds are humanitarian aid during a crisis and allow workers to find safe employment that provide wages that sustain families.