Today Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, Senator Michael F. Bennet, and Senator Sherrod Brown introduced a bill to make improvements to the unemployment system called the Unemployment Insurance Reform. Act. The full text is here and here is a one-page summary.
The bill would:
Ensure states cover 26 weeks of benefits and include part-time workers.
Ensure states are not able to shortchange workers by determining eligibility based on old wage records.
Improve administration of unemployment insurance by requiring, for example, states to accept electronic applications, make applications mobile-friendly and ensure accessibility in multiple languages.
If signed into law, the new requirements would take effect in January 2024 or whenever states adopt changes to meet the federal parameters, whichever is earlier.
The text does not:
Extend UI to independent contractors or any of the people that were covered by PUA and have lost all coverage.
Increase or set a federal floor for the percentage of wage replacement.
Extend benefit weeks through automatic stabilizers during times of crisis and recession.
They are hoping to pass these measures as part of the upcoming Build Back Better package currently moving through the reconciliation process.
Senator Wyden released a draft of his larger plan for reworking the federal-state unemployment insurance system in April, but said last week that much of the earlier proposal likely wouldn't be able to pass through the Senate's reconciliation rules.
"We are glad to see the process for fixing unemployment insurance starting with this bill. This is the very least our legislators can do for their millions of constituents who face unemployment and we encourage every legislator to ensure it is included in the upcoming package.
This is, as Senator Wyden himself mentioned, just a "downpayment" on the depth of reform that is truly needed.
We understand that Senator Wyden's larger plan for reform announced in April faced challenges, but weare unclear why there is so much polarization on this issue that directly benefits the constituents of every single representative in Congress. Reform cannot stop here and must build upon this plan.
We are also disappointed to not see any mention of extending the current programs for the millions of Americans who are now deeply struggling due to the federal government allowing programs to expire too early.
Even these "downpayment" measures won't go into effect until January of 2024 so workers will continue to suffer now. We may even states slash weeks in the coming year to "compensate" for the extended benefits during the pandemic. Nothing is being discussed to protect those still vulnerable in this pandemic. Long term reform is needed and appreciated. The lack of action about the crisis that is happening right now is appalling."
Stephanie Freed, Executive Director, ExtendPUA.org