GUARD Act a Positive Step to Address Historic Inequities in the Unemployment Insurance System

Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“Today, Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV) introduced the Guaranteeing Unemployment Assistance and Reducing Deception Act (the GUARD Act), a positive step in starting to address the longstanding inequities in the unemployment insurance (UI) system, particularly for Black workers. NELP looks forward to working with him on this bill as well as future reforms needed to overcome the systemic racism that pervades the current program, including improved benefit adequacy, duration, and eligibility.

“The GUARD Act is a step in the right direction to tackle the myriad of equity issues facing UI programs across the country. It would require the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to develop concrete performance standards for states on equity, benefit delivery, access, and other areas. The bill would authorize DOL to offer financial incentives to states who meet or exceed those standards, and give the agency enhanced enforcement tools to ensure that states comply with the standards and federal UI law.

“The bill will also mandate better data reporting by state agencies on key equity metrics, particularly with respect to race, ethnicity, gender, and disability. Current data reporting by states is extremely limited and is generally not disaggregated for these key demographics—allowing states to mask and ignore systemic barriers that prevent Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous jobseekers from receiving UI compensation.

“We are concerned, however, with the provision that would allow states to keep and use up to five percent of recouped fraudulent payments for UI administration. While well intentioned, this proposal does not address the root cause of administrative underfunding, offers perverse incentives to states, and is a bad precedent to set for UI financing. States do need a great deal more money to effectively run their UI programs. But those funds need to come through the appropriations process, not from money that should be in state trust funds to pay UI benefits. States do not need more incentives to charge more workers with fraud based on simple mistakes and misunderstandings and try to recoup benefits long spent on basic necessities.

“We look forward to working with Rep. Horsford and the committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate to ensure that Congress doesn’t enact any well-intentioned but potentially problematic provisions that could end up hurting workers far more than helping to solve the problems of program integrity or equitable access.

“NELP is grateful for Rep. Horsford’s leadership on the GUARD Act. We look forward to working with him on this first step to reforming the UI system, and to his continued leadership to advance important systemic reforms to ensure that all unemployed workers, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, or how they are paid or where they live can access UI. There is much work to be done and we are glad to have Rep. Horsford engaged and helping to lead the way.”


The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit Follow NELP on Twitter at @NelpNews.



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