Dems propose a federally-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program
The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and exacerbated by the Trump administration's failure to ensure widespread testing, is unlike any that Oregon and our entire country has faced.
An estimated 3.3 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past week, five times as many as the worst week of the Great Recession. The devastating impact on employment of this global pandemic has rippled into small businesses that drive the economy in every nook and cranny of Oregon.
In a typical recession, these workers would be able to begin searching for a new job right away, but slowing the spread of the virus and preventing an overload of the hospital system requires they stay at home and the businesses that would hire them remain closed.
The unemployment insurance system, created during the Great Depression, is strikingly out-of-date and completely unequipped to deal with our current crisis.
It's an anachronism based on the 20th century economy and doesn't account for the current nature of work or realities our country faces right now from a pandemic.
Simply put, this challenge is urgent. And the response must be just as urgent to make sure all Americans facing this economic gut-punch in real time get help quickly with a minimum of red tape.
To ensure these workers in Oregon and nationwide can make ends meet, Democrats have supercharged unemployment insurance, including an unprecedented expansion of the program to fast-track money to those who have lost their jobs overnight.
Our proposal creates a federally-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, modeled on disaster assistance, to meet unprecedented need. While states would still administer the benefits, the federal government would pick up the entire tab, ensuring that this program won't put additional pressure on state funds that are already stretched thin.
A key part of this expansion is filling the gaps in unemployment insurance so that those who are self-employed, including gig-workers and freelancers, are covered.
Those who are caring for children who are out of school, working reduced hours due to shelter-in-place orders, or quarantined due to virus exposure will also be covered for the first time.
In addition to expanding benefits to those who have not been covered, our proposal also includes a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance for anyone covered by traditional unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. In total, workers in most states could receive up to 39 weeks of benefits.
Our proposal also includes full wage replacement for the average worker who is out of work, whether they are covered by traditional unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Traditional unemployment assistance only replaces one-third to one-half of wages, depending on the state. In Oregon the average benefit is $422 per week, not enough to make ends meet. Replacing workers' full wages is critical at a time when staying home and not looking for work is central to our strategy to save lives.
Lastly, our agreement provides federal funding to states to eliminate the one waiting week between applying for and receiving unemployment insurance to get money in workers hands as quickly as possible.
With more than 2 million Americans losing their jobs overnight, with millions more to follow, states face an unprecedented challenge in administering their unemployment insurance programs. These difficulties were anticipated, which is why the second of three bills to address the pandemic provided funding to cover additional administrative costs. I will continue to monitor whether states need additional support as this crisis unfolds.
Workers are facing unprecedented challenges that demand an unprecedented response, and Democrats' unemployment insurance expansion is that unprecedented response.
Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, represents Oregon in the U.S. Senate.
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