December 01,2020

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Ashley Schapitl (202) 224-4515

Wyden, Schumer, Brown, Bennet, Reed Introduce Legislation To Avert Looming Financial Disaster For Millions Of Unemployed Workers

American Worker Holiday Relief Act would reinstate $600 boost, prevent expiration of additional weeks of federal benefits, program for gig and freelance workers

Washington, D.C.—Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Senate Finance Committee Member Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Senator Jack Reed, D-R.I., today introduced the American Worker Holiday Relief Act to avert looming financial disaster for millions of workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The bill would retroactively extend the $600 weekly federal boost to unemployment insurance benefits through October 2021, as well as tie the additional weeks of federal benefits and new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for gig and freelance workers to economic conditions on the ground. The additional weeks of federal benefits and the program for gig and freelance workers would not expire as long as the three month average national unemployment rate is above 5.5 percent, and will stay available longer in states where unemployment remains high.

The bill would add 26 weeks of federal benefits for workers receiving traditional unemployment insurance.  An additional 13 weeks of benefits would be added for each percentage point a state’s unemployment rate rises above 5.5 percent, up to a maximum of 78 weeks when a state’s unemployment rate is above 8.5 percent.

The bill would also strengthen the PUA program by adding 26 weeks of benefits, and clarifying that workers who need to care for children whose schools are not fully open for in-person learning, or whose employers are not following COVID-19 health and safety rules are covered by the program.

The additional weeks would harmonize benefits for workers covered by traditional unemployment insurance and the PUA program. 

“With the economy backsliding as COVID-19 cases explode nationwide, Senate Republicans are set to push millions of American families off a cliff, leaving them with no way to pay rent or feed their families the day after Christmas. Our bill would provide relief for workers who are hanging by a thread through no fault of their own,” Wyden said. “The road to recovery will be a long one, particularly for workers in the hardest hit services industries, whether it’s bars, restaurants, events, or tourism. In recognition of this painful reality, our bill ties relief programs to economic conditions on the ground. Whether or not you can pay rent or feed your family should not depend on whether or not Mitch McConnell sees it in his political interest.” 

“Right now our country is living through the worst stretch of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re averaging over one million new cases a week, hospitals and ICUs are stretched to capacity, and the economic pain felt by countless working families and small business owners is reaching a breaking point because Senate Republicans won’t join us in extending critical unemployment relief,” Leader Schumer said. “The bill announced today would help everyone from actors and musicians to health care workers and small businesses owners and anyone else who’s lost their job through no fault of their own during this deadly pandemic. We face a tough road ahead and Republicans need to join us in passing legislation that meets the moment instead of continuing to put their political priorities ahead of hardworking Americans who are trying to feed their kids and keep a roof over their family’s head.”

“For many Ohioans, unemployment benefits in the CARES Act were the difference between being able to pay the bills and feed their families, or draining their savings and turning to a payday lender. Unless Congress acts, these benefits will expire at the end of the year, just like the additional $600 in unemployment Republicans let expire over the summer.  These benefits have kept millions of Americans out of poverty and prevented the bottom from falling out of our economy,” Brown said. “Republicans have made it clear that helping American families is not their priority, but the American people sent a clear message in this election: they want a government that’s on the side of workers again. We need to ensure struggling Ohioans can pay their bills and don’t spend the holidays worried they’ll be evicted.”

“Yesterday, Governor Jared Polis convened a special session of the state legislature in Colorado to try and pass emergency relief for hundreds of thousands of people in our state. The only reason he was forced to do that is because the United States Senate has left millions of families to fend for themselves,” Bennet said. “And although Colorado is going to do whatever it can, it won’t be enough without federal support. That’s why we’re simply proposing to reinstate these benefits and tie their duration to the unemployment rate so that they last as long as they’re needed––and no longer than that. Letting these benefits expire now would be a profound mistake. If that happens, we’re going to throw 12 million people who rely on these benefits into an even deeper financial crisis family by family, all across America––including 122,000 people in Colorado.”

Text of the bill is available here.

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

Supporter statements

Rebecca Dixon, National Employment Law Project, Executive Director: “NELP commends Senators Schumer, Wyden, Brown, Bennet, and Reed for introducing the American Worker Holiday Relief Act, a bill that responds to the urgent needs of millions of workers who are currently unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. These dual crises have devastated Black and Latinx workers the most and it is imperative that Congress proceed with relief that will make support accessible to every worker possible.  We hope that Congress follows the lead of these senators and moves to pass this bill as quickly as possible.”

Andrew Stettner, the Century Foundation, Senior Fellow: “The end of CARES Act funding would deliver a tragically harsh end-of-year blow to millions of Americans dependent on unemployment benefits as their last source of income. The new American Worker Holiday Relief Act would extend a lifeline to these vulnerable Americans by continuing hugely successful CARES Act UI programs - especially PEUC, PUC, and PUA - into 2021. This well-crafted proposal is exactly the kind of aid needed to boost not only these families but the entire economy until the vaccine is widely distributed and the national economy begins to truly recover.”

Arnab Datta, Employ America, Senior Legislative Counsel: “We are still in a deep economic crisis, with millions set to lose benefits at the end of the year. With a pandemic raging, Congress must provide workers with a strong safety net, and the flexibility to return to work safely. With a vaccine on the horizon, we must put policies in place that will build a strong economic recovery. The American Worker Holiday Relief Act does just that, by ensuring that generous benefits for American workers continue until the unemployment rate goes down. I hope Congress passes this much-needed legislation soon.”