Posted July 27, 2020
Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:
Today, after ignoring the House of Representatives’ HEROES Act for over two months, Senate Republicans released their long-awaited COVID relief bill. This bill fails to rise to the moment in virtually every possible way. Workers and advocates are demanding a people-first solution.
Although unemployment is on the rise—particularly because many states recklessly and prematurely reopened for business, which led to sharp increases in COVID infection—Senate Republicans apparently think that now is the time to gut support for the 30 million people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and are relying on unemployment benefits to get by.
First, they include provisions that will make it more difficult to qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the program designed to support those who do not qualify for regular state unemployment insurance. And nothing could be more ill-conceived than the plan to slash federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), the $600 weekly supplement designed to ensure that the average worker has full wage replacement in the face of government-mandated and public-health-necessitated job closures. Republicans now want to cut FPUC to only $200 per week for two months, and then phase into a system where only 70 percent of an unemployed worker’s wages are replaced. And they would end the FPUC, PUA, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs on December 31, 2020, leaving the fate of unemployed workers and their families in the hands of a lame duck Congress, coming off what will probably be the most contentious election season of our lifetimes.
Our collective survival through this economic and public health crisis depends on a government that responds to people’s needs so they can cover basic living costs like rent, utilities, and food. The $600 FPUC supplement has been a lifeline for so many families, especially underpaid Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers who don’t have wealth or savings to fall back on, and who are bearing a disproportionate share of the job loss. The Congressional Budget Office reports that 47 percent of workers receiving unemployment insurance are people of color.
The FPUC benefit is also helping to sustain struggling businesses by injecting much-needed spending into the economy. It’s outrageous that Senate Republicans would do away with one of the most effective policy responses to this economic crisis.
Moreover, state unemployment agencies have been clear that implementing the Senate Republican proposal would be extremely difficult if not entirely unworkable, and most states would need far more than two months to even attempt to reprogram their UI technology to accommodate this mandate. Indeed, Senate Republicans acknowledge as much, providing states with the possibility, but no guarantee, of short-term extensions of time to reprogram, but they are asking these already under-resourced and vastly over-worked agencies to engage in truly extreme amounts of reprogramming of computers, taking away from current benefit delivery, for a program that lapses on December 31, 2020.
In addition to abandoning unemployed workers, Senate Republicans have also laid bare their plans to abandon workers in essential and in-person-reopening jobs by granting long-term legal immunity to irresponsible employers who fail to protect the health and safety of workers and consumers. Such legal immunity would be a disincentive for employers to protect their workers, exacerbating a situation in which workplace safety standards are already insufficient, given OSHA’s refusal to issue an emergency standard and the lack of retaliation protections for whistleblowers and workers organizing for safer conditions.
The Senate Republicans’ bill also contains a dangerous corporate giveaway for so-called “gig companies” that would restrict their workers from fighting for their rights as employees. Under the proposal, if a “digital marketplace company” such as Uber or DoorDash provides financial assistance to their workers, or provides certain health and safety benefits or training to their workers, such actions could not be used to find that the company’s workers are employees. This provision has no place in a COVID relief bill, or anywhere.
The Senate Republican package would also let employers get away with “pandemic-related” violations of minimum wage and overtime laws, discrimination laws, paid leave laws, and more. This is outrageous and offensive. The pandemic is no excuse for employers—who are fully on notice as to what these laws require—to violate longstanding workplace protections with impunity.
As a final note, the Senate Republican package provides none of the desperately needed state and local aid, which will lead to even more unemployment, particularly of people of color, who are disproportionately represented in the ranks of government workers. Nor does it provide adequate funding for childcare, coronavirus testing, and contact tracing. It provides no additional money to combat hunger and no response to the looming eviction crisis, which will only be made worse by the cuts to unemployment insurance. And it fails to mandate that OSHA issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect all workers—something it should have done at the outset of this pandemic.
Everyone in our country deserves better than this bill. We urge all members of Congress to reject this misguided and wholly inadequate proposal. Instead, Congress and the administration need to listen to the concerns of the people and families hit hardest by this public health and economic crisis.
We call on Congressional leaders and the White House to engage in swift deliberations to address the depth and breadth of the problems we face, to promptly extend the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program to minimize the gap in benefits caused by the Senate’s delay, and to pass a bill that puts people and families first.