ExtendPUA.org had over 30 meeting with Senators in the fall of 2020, taking constituents to tell their stories and advocate for robust relief from their Senators. We pushed for reinstatement of the FPUC, additional weeks for all federal unemployment programs, rent relief, healthcare relief, small business relief, and more. Many of those demands were met in December and more are met in the Biden Rescue Plan, but both pieces of legislation leave major holes for unemployed and underemployed workers so we have begun holding more meetings.
The purpose of our 2021 meetings is to encourage the Senators to support the Biden Rescue Plan, but also to make it stronger. Our primary asks are:
A direct payment to all unemployed and underemployed workers that compensates for the 5 months of government inaction (the retroactivity solution).
Taxes cancelled and refunded for all UI and PUA.
All unemployment programs extended AT LEAST through September. (The current American Rescue Plan has them only extended through August - the House Ways and Means Committee cut a week.)
We have had follow up phone calls on these topics with the offices of Senators Wyden, Schumer, Sanders, and Warren. On Friday, we began holding meetings again, inviting constituents (over zoom).
Here is a brief summary of Friday's meetings for those who have been asking.
Mark Kelly (AZ)
In our early morning meeting with the Legislative Director in Senator Kelly's office, Arizona constituents shared their stories and then had a robust conversation with his LD. She reported that Senator Kelly supports the Biden Rescue Plan. She said she also believed he would support retroactivity and tax relief in theory, but would need to know how they fit within the top line number. She had not heard discussion of the retroactivity issue and was interested to hear it. She agreed to push support for the 3 items to the Finance Committee and make sure they knew she was hearing from constituents.
Raphael Warnock (GA)
In our meeting with staff from Senator Warnock's office, Georgians shared their stories and his staff member agreed to work on a letter to the GA DOL about paying out claims and improving response to new legislation (many Georgians are STILL waiting for relief from the December bill). He said the retroactivity and tax relief issues were new to him and he will be reaching out to the Senator and the Finance Committee about them immediately.
Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
20 constituents attended a meeting with Senator Shaheen's staff and we had 6 of them share their stories. NH is currently having huge issues with their unemployment system, not paying out claims, denying PUA to those who are eligible, and charging huge overpayments.
The staff member told the group that the Senator is currently working with Senator Wyden on legislation to reform UI, update the technology, and address the state-level issues so that some of their concerns are dealt with on a bigger scale. They are also working with the state DOL to remedy the problem with the new question many are reporting has cut them off of benefits entirely and hoping to have that resolved in the next week.
Additionally, the staff member promised to pass our three asks on to the Senator and said they will absolutely engage with the Finance Committee on those topics, with particular support for tax relief.
We will also be connecting with these offices' Communications and press teams to get constituent stories out, so make sure we have yours, which you care share at ExtendPUA.org/meet. We have also asked them to put out public statements of support. As constituents, you can push harder for that public support.
We are setting up more meetings with Senators - please sign up to attend! ExtendPUA.org/meet and keep calling your legislators every day. ExtendPUA.org/strategy. These asks aren't easy wins at this point (there is now a preset top-line number), so many other organizations have already stopped pushing for them. It's up to you to make your voices heard. If your Senator doesn't hear from you, there is no chance it will happen. Pushing for what's right will land us at least part way there.