Senate Democrats introduce bill to reform unemployment insurance

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A group of Democratic senators introduced a bill that seeks to reform the nation’s unemployment insurance system.

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The Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act, S. 2865, was introduced on Monday by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The bill, if enacted, would dictate that states cover 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits as well as part-time workers. It also seeks to ensure states are not able to determine eligibility based on old wage records.

“This proposal makes a down payment on long-overdue reform to our unemployment system, and was designed to fit in our upcoming package,” Wyden said. “Importantly, it would slow the race to the bottom on benefits, ensuring six months of benefits and coverage for part-time workers. It would also take significant steps forward to improve administration of the unemployment insurance system, which would help combat fraud by criminal syndicates. This system has been intentionally broken to minimize the numbers of jobless workers who can access it, and we’re going take significant steps toward fixing it.”

Further, it is designed to improve administration of unemployment insurance by requiring states to accept electronic applications, make applications mobile-friendly, and ensure accessibility in multiple languages.

“What we’ve learned over the last 18 months is that our nation’s unemployment insurance system is inadequate and unreliable for workers when they lose a job,” Bennet said. “Unemployment programs have helped many American workers stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic – but too many still struggle to access their benefits in our patchwork of outdated state systems. This proposal is an essential first step toward modernizing the system, making critical reforms that would protect workers by strengthening and expanding benefits and ensuring states’ technological infrastructure is readily accessible to all.”

The National Employment Law Project issued a statement in support of the plan.

“We applaud Senator Wyden for heeding the call of unemployed people and advocates across the country by proposing critical reforms that continue to provide a lifeline in this pandemic and economic crisis and begin to address key ways the Unemployment Insurance system disproportionately excludes Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and workers with disabilities,” Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the organization, said.

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