September 27,2021

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Wyden, Bennet, Brown Introduce Bill to Provide Down Payment on Unemployment Insurance Reform

Bill would help bring unemployment insurance into the 21st century by minimizing disparities among states

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senator Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., and Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, today introduced legislation to provide a down payment on reforming the nation’s unemployment insurance system.

The Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act is a modified version of the discussion draft Senators Wyden and Bennet released in April, and is designed to fit within the Finance Committee’s piece of the Build Back Better package. 

The bill would ensure states cover 26 weeks of benefits and part-time workers, and ensure states are not able to shortchange workers by determining eligibility based on old wage records. It would also improve administration of unemployment insurance by requiring, for example, states to accept electronic applications, make applications mobile-friendly and ensure accessibility in multiple languages. 

“This proposal makes a down payment on long-overdue reform to our unemployment system, and was designed to fit in our upcoming package,” Wyden said. “Importantly, it would slow the race to the bottom on benefits, ensuring six months of benefits and coverage for part-time workers. It would also take significant steps forward to improve administration of the unemployment insurance system, which would help combat fraud by criminal syndicates. This system has been intentionally broken to minimize the numbers of jobless workers who can access it, and we’re going take significant steps toward fixing it.” 

“What we’ve learned over the last 18 months is that our nation’s unemployment insurance system is inadequate and unreliable for workers when they lose a job,” Bennet said. “Unemployment programs have helped many American workers stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic – but too many still struggle to access their benefits in our patchwork of outdated state systems. This proposal is an essential first step toward modernizing the system, making critical reforms that would protect workers by strengthening and expanding benefits and ensuring states’ technological infrastructure is readily accessible to all.”

 “We need to update our unemployment system so that it actually benefits the people who make this country work and who pay into the system knowing it’ll be there when they need it most,” Brown said. “A worker’s unemployment insurance coverage shouldn’t vary dramatically depending on what state they live in. This legislation is an important first step that puts workers first and recognizes that we need to end the race-to-the-bottom business model of states’ unemployment insurance programs.”

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

Statement of support

“We applaud Senator Wyden for heeding the call of unemployed people and advocates across the country by proposing critical reforms that continue to provide a lifeline in this pandemic and economic crisis and begin to address key ways the Unemployment Insurance system disproportionately excludes Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and workers with disabilities. This proposal is a first step in transforming the UI system to benefit all unemployed people whether the country is experiencing good economic times or bad,” Rebecca Dixon, National Employment Law Project Executive Director, said.