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Top Democrats Support Tying Expanded Unemployment Benefits To Automatic Triggers

Today Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) welcomed the support of Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) and Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) for the Worker Relief and Security Act. Beyer, who serves as Vice Chair of the Joint Economic Committee, introduced the legislative framework for the bill, which would tie expanded unemployment benefits to the ongoing public health emergency and national and state unemployment levels, earlier this week. The Senate leads are Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). The cosponsorships of the two chairmen follow endorsements from leading economists and policy experts.

“My colleagues and I feel a deep sense of urgency to not only get the American people the help they need during this pandemic, but also to make sure it is sustained for as long as they need it,” said Joint Economic Committee Vice Chair Don Beyer (D-VA). “Leaders in the House, former Fed Chairs and economic policy leaders, and top economists agree that automatic triggers are a strong approach to keep help flowing to workers for the duration of the public health and economic crisis. I thank Chairmen Yarmuth and Scott for their support, and welcome their advocacy as we make the case for the Worker Relief and Security Act to the larger Caucus and its leaders.”

“In the face of an historic crisis, the federal government must do what it takes to support the American people and make this economic downturn as short and shallow as possible,” said Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY), Chairman of the House Budget Committee. “To avoid repeating the mistakes of previous recovery efforts, we must ensure that workers, families, businesses, and communities have access to critical aid until a strong recovery is underway. As the Budget Committee explored in a recent report, by incorporating automatic triggers into COVID relief legislation, we can provide American families, localities, and states with a sense of stability since federal assistance will be tied to economic conditions – not politics of the moment. This bill provides a thoughtful approach to a crucial component of our fiscal response to this crisis.”

“Since the onset of this pandemic, we’ve seen a repetition of the scene from Jaws where they acknowledge, ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat.’  That’s why the New Democrat Coalition believes automatic stabilizers need to be built into coronavirus response and recovery assistance programs to trigger assistance when and where we need it, and ensure a sustainable and robust economic recovery,” said New Democrat Coalition Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA). “I applaud Rep. Don Beyer and Senators Reed and Bennet for their leadership on the Worker Relief and Security Act to trigger continued unemployment compensation benefits tied to the duration and economic impacts of this crisis. The nature of this pandemic and economic crisis is unprecedented and has created enormous uncertainty for the American people.  A bold step like this can provide some much-needed predictability.”

"Expanded and extended unemployment insurance is the most important economic response to the crisis we are in today,” said former Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman. “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."

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.