A group almost 40 Democratic lawmakers are asking President Joe Biden to overhaul the unemployment system by permanently enacting some pandemic-relief measures, such as allowing gig-economy workers to continue collecting jobless benefits.
In a letter sent Friday to Mr. Biden, the lawmakers argue that traditional jobless benefits fail to reflect the realities of the modern workforce, as well as providing far too little aid for families when people lose their jobs. The signers include Senator Bernie Sanders, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden and Representative Adam Schiff.
The appeal comes a year after the pandemic caused U.S. unemployment to surge to the highest level since the Great Depression, prompting lawmakers to introduce temporary fixes to a system that critics have called out as insufficient and backward.
Among the measures enacted were extra weekly aid, as well as making gig-economy and freelance workers eligible for jobless benefits under a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA. About 4 in 10 jobless claims through March 27 were from PUA, which the lawmakers say indicates that the regular unemployment system is falling short.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many cracks in our country's unemployment insurance (UI) system," the lawmakers wrote. "The system also fails to respond to economic downturns, to reach enough workers, or to provide adequate benefits."
The lawmakers want the unemployment system to provide more generous benefits, noting that jobless aid typically replaces about 40 cents for every $1 earned on the job. The stimulus packages provided temporary boosts unemployment benefits, starting at an extra $600 a week through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, last year. In March, the American Rescue Plan provided an additional $300 in weekly jobless aid.
Still, the effort is likely to face pushback from Republican lawmakers, with some arguing that the extra weekly aid discourages people from returning to work.
The number of Americans filing for first-time jobless aid last weeksince the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in 2020, a sign layoffs are easing amid a strengthening economy. But even as the economy recovers, weekly jobless claims remain about double what they were prior to the pandemic.