Sanders Urges Biden Administration To Block Red States From Cutting Some Federal Unemployment Benefits—Even If Governors Want To

Topline

As Republican governors across the country announce plans to terminate supplemental federal unemployment assistance for fear the extra benefits are discouraging people from returning to work, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is urging the Biden Administration to make sure at least certain federal unemployment benefits are continued.

Key Facts

In a Thursday letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Sanders cited a section of the CARES Act—the first major pandemic stimulus bill passed in March 2020—that mandates that the Labor Secretary provide Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits to all workers who are eligible for the program. 

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program was created by the CARES Act to extend unemployment insurance benefits to those not traditionally eligible, including self-employed individuals, gig workers and freelancers, and is separate from the programs that provide an extra $300 per week on top of traditional state benefits and extend the maximum duration of traditional state benefits.

The PUA program was also expanded earlier this year to include workers who left jobs because of Covid-19 safety concerns, workers who lost hours or employment as a result of the pandemic and school employees who lost pay because of school closures.

Sanders concedes that states have authority to stop paying out benefits under other federal programs, but argues they cannot stop payments under the PUA program.

Furthermore, those PUA payments must also include the $300 per week federal supplement, Sanders said.

103,571 people filed new claims for benefits under the PUA program and some 7.3 million people received benefits under the program last week.

Crucial Quote

“It is critical that the Department of Labor does everything in its power to ensure that jobless Americans continue to receive this aid as the law intended,” Sanders wrote. 

Key Background

Anecdotal reports of a shortage of American workers have ignited a fierce debate in Washington over whether a $300 federal unemployment benefit supplement is discouraging recipients from returning to low-paid jobs. The Biden Administration has said there is no evidence that the extra benefits are slowing hiring.

Big Numbers

895,000. That’s how many workers would be impacted by the benefit cuts announced by a dozen states as of May 13, according to a report from the Century Foundation. Those cuts could cost those workers a total of $4.66 billion in lost benefits, Century calculates. The report does not include South Dakota or Georgia, both of which have also announced that they will back out of the federal benefits programs. A Washington Post analysis found that the cuts from 13 states (not including Georgia) will mean 273,000 workers see their benefits decrease by $300 per week, 268,000 PUA workers will see their benefits drop to zero and 340,000 recipients of benefits extended by the CARES Act will also lose their benefits entirely. 

Tangent

The Washington Post reported that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has also pushed the Labor Department to “look at all options” to prevent gig workers and self-employed individuals from losing their benefits. 

Further Reading

Georgia The Latest State Dropping $300-A-Week Federal Unemployment Benefits (Forbes)

White House Says $300-A-Week Unemployment Benefits Are Not Causing Worker Shortages (Forbes)

Here’s Why $300 A Week Unemployment Benefits Aren’t Driving Worker Shortages (Forbes)

Jobless Claims Hit New Pandemic Low, But 16.9 Million Americans Are Still Receiving Unemployment Benefits (Forbes)

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