March 25,2020

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Wyden Announces Historic Expansion Of Unemployment Insurance

Democratic package would modernize unemployment insurance to include self-employed workers

Washington, D.C. — Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today announced the inclusion of an unprecedented expansion of unemployment insurance in the bipartisan agreement to respond to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump administration’s failure to ensure widespread testing. An expansion of unemployment insurance has been a top Democratic priority.

The agreement would create a federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, modeled on disaster assistance, to cover workers who have lost their jobs overnight and do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance. 

Wyden issued the following statement:

“We’re doing everything we can to get out ahead of what’s going to be a severe economic crisis, and step one is securing the most significant expansion of unemployment insurance in history. Unemployment insurance was created in 1932, when no one could have imagined how the nature of work would change over the next century. Freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors have been excluded from unemployment insurance.

“A key part of this expansion is filing those gaps so that those who are self-employed, as well as those who are sick or quarantined will be covered for the first time. For many people, this expansion means unemployment insurance will replace every dollar of their lost wages. This is just one part of the overall effort to get through this oncoming crisis, but it will help millions of Americans stay in their homes and put food on the table.

“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.”

The federally-funded expansion to unemployment insurance includes:

  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which expands unemployment insurance to cover individuals who are not currently covered by traditional unemployment assistance, including:
    • Individuals who are unable to work because of coronavirus, whether due to illness, quarantine or child care needs
    • Individuals who are self-employed, including gig workers and freelancers
    • Part-time workers
    • Individuals with irregular work histories
  • $600 per week per worker in additional unemployment compensation, which will amount to full wage replacement for many workers.  
  • 13-week extension of unemployment insurance for anyone covered by traditional unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (39 weeks total).
  • Federal funding to states to eliminate the waiting week between applying for and receiving unemployment assistance.
  • 100% federal funding of work-share programs for states with programs already in place, and 50% federal funding of work-share programs for states that work with the Department of Labor to develop a new work-share plan. These programs help keep workers on payroll by using unemployment compensation to make up for wages lost through reduced hours.