Press Releases

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

Washington, May 5, 2020

This week 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, policy experts, and top House Democrats 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."

Chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman:

"Expanded and extended unemployment insurance is the most important economic response to the crisis we are in today. 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."

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.