Wyden and Schumer Work to Avert Looming Financial Disaster for Millions of Workers

December 8, 2020 by Sean Trambley

WASHINGTON — This week, the American Worker Holiday Relief Act was introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

“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.” 

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 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%, and will stay available longer in states where unemployment remains high.

“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,” 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.”

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%, up to a maximum of 78 weeks when a state’s unemployment rate is above 8.5%.

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. 

Rebecca Dixon, National Employment Law Project executive director, said, “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.”

Full text of the bill is available here and a section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

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