New GAO Reports on Unemployment Insurance During the Pandemic Highlight Urgently Needed Reforms

Following is a statement from Jenna Gerry, senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project:

“Today, the Government Accountability Office released two reports on unemployment insurance during the pandemic, confirming what we have long known: unemployment insurance served as a crucial lifeline for tens of millions of jobless workers and their families, yet the success of the program was hindered by the historical deficiencies of a system that continues to exclude too many unemployed workers, particularly Black and immigrant workers. The UI system is in urgent need of robust reform.

“The current program design—which gives state legislatures tremendous leeway to decide who gets benefits, for how long, and at what amount—and decades of flat or declining federal administrative funding mean that millions of jobless workers end up without any support while they search for work, the GAO reports note. Moreover, over the last 30 years, Black unemployed workers were 24% less likely to receive unemployment benefits than their white counterparts.

“The federal pandemic programs temporarily fixed the biggest gaps in the system by expanding coverage for app-based and part-time workers and those with caregiving responsibilities, extending benefit duration, and increasing weekly benefit amounts. But these programs have all ended, and Congress has failed to enact much-needed long-term reform.

“Recent initiatives by the U.S. Department of Labor to address benefit delivery and access issues, particularly with a focus on improving equity, are a great start. But the department’s efforts will continue to be hindered until Congress enacts bold, structural reforms, including expanded coverage, a longer minimum benefit duration, increased benefit amounts that are in line with basic living expenses, and more funding for state administration.”

The two GAO reports are available here:


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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