On the House COVID Relief Bill Providing Aid to Unemployed Workers and Ensuring Workplace Safety Protections

Washington, DC—Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, on the updated version of The Heroes Act, released today, that would provide relief to unemployed workers:

“It’s long past the time for Congress and the administration to come together and pass a COVID-19 and recession relief bill that rises to the seriousness of the crisis we’re in. Millions of people are out of work through no fault of their own. People’s lives depend on it.

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“We strongly support the provisions in The Heroes Act, which would mandate that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finally issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect all workers from COVID-19 and would provide much needed and long overdue support to unemployed workers and their families.

“First and foremost, this bill would restore the $600 per week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program through January 31, 2021 (retroactively from September 6th). This $600 in supplemental aid is a critical lifeline, particularly for recipients in states where unemployment compensation is capped at sub-poverty-levels. These are also the states with the highest numbers of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers. Restoring the weekly $600 compensation through January 31st is a stop-gap measure until policymakers and their constituents can implement longer-term solutions that address the systematic divestment of unemployment insurance programs in states with the highest numbers of people of color.

“Other important provisions include allowing states to waive overpayments of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in cases of equity and good conscience; providing relief for ‘mixed-income’ earners who qualify for only small unemployment benefits because most of their income does not qualify them for unemployment; and clarifying that caregivers are eligible for PUA even when a school or daycare closure is partial.

“Finally, the bill would provide states with the resources they need to meet this unprecedented challenge—for example, by extending funding of waiting weeks and interest-free loans for state unemployment trust funds.

“Make no mistake: this unemployment package is not perfect. Congress will still need to expand and extend the benefits available to people out of work well into next year and perhaps beyond. Congress should also do more to make abundantly clear in federal law that no worker has to return to an unsafe workplace or risk losing their benefits. And most important of all, Congress must extend unemployment benefits to all workers, regardless of their immigration status. NELP will continue to fight side by side with undocumented workers and their allies for their inclusion in this bill.

“Finally, we would be remiss if we did not note this crisis has shown in the starkest terms how desperately the entire unemployment compensation program needs systematic reform, centered on the Black and immigrant workers who are most often shut out of the system altogether due to decades of intentionally exclusionary policies that hinder us from equal access to labor rights and social programs. NELP stands ready to work with Congress on these much-needed reforms, and we urge this to be one of the next Congress’s top priorities.

“But right now, we urge Congressional leaders and the administration to get back to negotiations and pass a robust relief bill without delay.”

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