NELP Urges Immediate House Passage of COVID Rescue Plan to Get Resources to Workers Now

Inadequate Bill Means Congress Must Raise the Federal Minimum Wage and Adopt Systemic Unemployment Program Reforms to Help Workers

Washington, DC—Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“Now that the U.S. Senate has passed the American Rescue Plan, NELP calls on the House to take swift action to get this COVID-19 and recession relief package into the hands of people across the country—particularly vital unemployment payments for jobless workers that will lapse on March 14th absent prompt action.

“Our call for passage is not without extreme disappointment with certain aspects of this legislation. Elected leaders had an opportunity to lead with compassion and put together a complete package that truly met people’s needs in one of the richest nations in the world. Austerity and needless penny-pinching in this moment of crisis is immoral — those who suffer most need courageous action from those elected to lead precisely in times like these.

“It is unfortunate and unnecessary that the Senate reduced the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment from $400 to $300 per week without using every last penny of that reduction to fund payments for jobless workers through at least the end of September. Payments are now set to expire on September 6, when Congress is not in session. The cruel irony of a likely lapse in unemployment payments on Labor Day is not lost on NELP or anyone who advocates on behalf of working people and their families. Unemployed people and their families should not have to sacrifice desperately needed income support to avoid this lapse.

“When the last lapse occurred in December, it shortchanged jobless workers approximately $17.6 billion in benefits for the first four weeks in January 2021. During this time, 72 percent of unemployed workers said they had trouble meeting basic household expenses, 31 percent reported not having enough money to pay for food, and 4.7 million people were behind on rent. Women make up the majority of unemployment claimants, and these lapses have the worst impact on women of color, exacerbating already existing inequalities. Resulting from structural racism and occupational segregation, in December, Latinx women had the highest unemployment rate at 9.1%, followed by Black women at 8.4%. Further benefits cliffs and lapses this year will continue to have a disparate impact on women of color and their families.

“The addition of federal income tax relief on the first $10,200 of unemployment payments in 2020—a proposal championed by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Cindy Axne (D-IA)—will be welcome news to the millions of workers being hit with surprise tax bills. But the view that everything will be back to normal come September is not only willfully ignorant but also cruel. Those who could not find the compassion and decency to expand the pandemic unemployment programs long enough to give Congress time to assess the employment and health situation in September and then make an informed decision about the best path forward honor neither their responsibility to their constituents nor to the people across the country who need their help in this time of crisis.

“The continuing need to keep reauthorizing these unemployment programs, along with all the difficulty states have had in administering them, points to the unassailable conclusion that Congress must now turn its attention to comprehensive reform of the unemployment compensation system in this country.   Rather than lurching from one extension of emergency benefits to the next within state programs with faulty infrastructure, inadequate payments, and exceedingly restrictive eligibility, Congress must turn to the job of reforming the UI program and listening to the voices and priorities of the workers who have suffered so badly from these deeply flawed programs and have been fighting for real solutions. In the long term, alongside workers and other advocates, we look forward to building an unemployment system that provides economic security and stability to all workers and doesn’t place a tax burden on workers at all.

“Once this recovery package is passed, another immediate next step must be for Congress and the Biden administration to find a way to pass the Raise the Wage Act and deliver a much-needed increase in the federal minimum wage and elimination of subminimum wages for tipped workers, youth workers, and workers with disabilities. Sixty percent of workers on the pandemic frontlines would have benefitted from the passage of this act.

“We cannot truly recover from these crises unless frontline workers have better wages and policymakers eliminate the discriminatory subminimum wages that deprive so many workers—particularly women of color and people with disabilities—of financial stability. NELP will continue to work alongside workers across the country for passage of a $15 minimum wage at every turn. The urgent needs and demands of workers will not be silenced nor stopped by unjust procedural rules or by politicians who refuse to act in the best interests of their constituents.

“The overwhelming popularity of the American Rescue Plan is a testament to how desperately needed relief is in our communities. People have been demanding adequate financial relief for themselves and their families, as well as the funds necessary for state and local governments to fulfill all their necessary functions—from public health, to education, to providing for those who are struggling with hunger and homelessness.

“We urge quick passage of the American Rescue Plan and further call on Congress to immediately turn its attention to the continued pressing needs of workers throughout the country.”


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