March 12,2020

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Ashley Schapitl (202)224-4515

NEWS: Wyden, Peters, Schumer Lead Bill With Colleagues to Provide Unemployment Assistance to Those Affected By Coronavirus

Washington, D.C. – As part of Senate Democrats’ response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senate Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters, D-Mich., Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and 20 colleagues today introduced legislation, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, to provide federally-funded unemployment assistance to affected individuals.  

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Jack Reed, D-R.I., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Ed Markey, D-Mass., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Tim Kaine, D-Va., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

“While stopping the spread of the virus is the top priority and the best way to prevent further economic harm, expanding unemployment insurance is the most efficient thing we can do to help workers walking an economic tightrope because of this pandemic,” Wyden said. “Workers who lose their paycheck, whether it is because they get sick or their hours are slashed, should have access to unemployment benefits to help them make ends meet until they’re back at work. This proposal would get money in the hands of those who need it most, unlike proposals from the White House to slash taxes for big corporations.”

“Michiganders forced to stay at home from work due to Coronavirus shouldn’t need to worry about being able to pay their bills or putting food on the table,” Peters said. “We need to do everything possible to support workers and families during this challenging time. I’m pleased to help lead this effort to help ensure Michigan families can stay afloat financially during the coronavirus Outbreak.”

“The continued spread of COVID-19 will have a serious economic impact on working families, and the best way for Congress to support them is to ensure sufficient unemployment insurance benefits are available to protect workers from economic hardship during this epidemic,” Schumer said. “I strongly urge my Republican colleagues to quickly act on this legislation to make it easier and faster for Americans to get unemployment insurance if they lose their jobs.”

“As the effects of the coronavirus ripple across the economy, Congress must be proactive and take steps to prevent large scale job losses.  We can’t afford to wait around or dilly-dally.  We know from the 2008 economic crisis that unemployment insurance benefits are a vital lifeline for workers who may lose their jobs or become unable to work from the economic impacts of the epidemic,” Reed said. “Congress must ensure there is an unemployment insurance safety net in place for this outbreak.  Otherwise, not only will people lose their jobs, but the economy could go into a tailspin and many of those jobs could be eliminated.  We can’t let that happen.  We need the President to join the effort.”

“We need a safety net that allows everyone to stay home from work, care for loved ones, and take care of their health needs without worrying about making ends meet or missing a paycheck,” Warren said. “Passing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a critical step to protecting people during this public health emergency, especially hourly workers, gig workers, self-employed workers, and individuals with limited work history who don't qualify for regular unemployment insurance.”

“No worker should have to choose between putting themselves at risk of contracting coronavirus and being to pay their bills and support their families,” Hirono said. “We need to do everything we can to get money in workers’ pockets as quickly as possible. This bipartisan legislation would provide much needed stability and peace of mind to American workers as we confront the growing coronavirus pandemic.”

“Ohioans should not have to choose between going to work while they’re sick, or losing their paycheck,” Brown said. “It’s unacceptable that millions of people are faced with that impossible choice. Ensuring working Americans have access to unemployment assistance during a public health crisis will help protect workers and their families.”

“Public health emergencies can quickly become economic disasters for those who are already struggling. We must act urgently to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and safeguard the economic security of millions of Americans,” Booker said. “That means providing unemployment assistance for workers who lose a paycheck because of this virus and ensuring that they and their families can get by until they get back to work.”

The bill would create a temporary unemployment compensation program to provide benefits to individuals unable to work because of coronavirus. Modeled on the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, this new program would be tailored to help those affected by the pandemic. While Congress has provided temporary unemployment benefits in response to disasters, it has not previously provided benefits in response to a public health crisis. 

The program will be particularly helpful for those without paid sick leave, and will cover self-employed workers and workers without sufficient work history to qualify for regular unemployment insurance.

Workers who would qualify for assistance under the program include: 

    • Individuals who are sick or who have been exposed to coronavirus
    • Individuals who must care for someone who is sick with coronavirus
    • Individuals who cannot reach their place of work because of a quarantine
    • Individuals who need to self-quarantine to protect themselves from coronavirus
    • Individuals who must care for a child because of a school closure
    • Individuals who are working reduced hours due to coronavirus. (Individuals who have been laid off are covered by traditional unemployment assistance. While individuals who have had their hours cut by their employer generally qualify for traditional unemployment assistance, this proposal would ensure workers do not fall through the cracks if they are working reduced hours.)

Benefits and administrative costs associated with this program would be federally funded through the federal unemployment insurance trust funds. The program would be administered by state unemployment offices, and would end six months after the end of the pandemic.

A copy of the bill text is available here