U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Tuesday released a blueprint for revamping unemployment insurance to respond to the social distancing mandates and extended economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal designates the country as being in an “extreme social distancing period” until the end of July, to be followed by a period of “national unemployment emergency.” The latter window will continue until unemployment declines for two consecutive months and falls below 5.5%. States will receive extended federally-funded unemployment benefits for their out-of-work residents, with the duration based on the severity of unemployment. Workers in states with higher than 9.5% unemployment will receive a 65-week extension for benefits, far higher than the 13 weeks authorized by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.
“We are going to be climbing out of a deep economic hole, and we need to maintain support for workers and families until the economy is back to full strength,” said Bennet. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., also joined him in developing the Worker Relief and Security Act.
The legislative proposal would make all temporarily unemployed workers eligible for unemployment benefits regardless of whether they have an assurance of a return to work after the pandemic. The expansion would include full-time students who lost jobs and those who have to quarantine themselves. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which stems from a CARES Act expansion of benefits to "gig economy" workers not traditionally covered under unemployment insurance, would also have a sliding time-based provision based on the severity of unemployment.
As of April 30, 30.3 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic began to trigger stay-at-home orders and shutdowns of non-essential businesses to prevent contagion.