July 28, 2020

Kilmer, Beyer Introduce Unemployment Legislation Amid Lapse In Benefits

Automatic stabilizers legislation follows bicameral framework endorsed by Fed Chairs and leading economists

Washington, D.C. Today U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and Don Beyer (VA-08), Vice Chair and House leader of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, introduced the Worker Relief and Security Act. The legislation would automatically continue and provide for additional enhanced emergency unemployment benefits for the duration of the public health emergency and ensuing economic crisis until conditions return closer to pre-crisis levels.

Kilmer and Beyer introduced the bill amid a lapse in enhanced federal unemployment benefits resulting from Senate Republicans’ failure to pass an extension. The Worker Relief and Security Act builds off a previously released framework developed with Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“The staggering impact of the coronavirus on our communities increases by the day, and yet the federal government is still struggling to keep up with the needs of communities in our regions and across the country,” said Rep. Kilmer. “Instead of getting out ahead of the problem, we just see a repetition of the scene from Jaws in which Brody says, ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat.’ With this bill, Congress can provide a bigger boat – and one that meets the size of the problem as conditions persist or worsen. Our communities cannot afford to face a cliff every few months. We need automatic stabilizers in coronavirus response and recovery efforts that ensure the duration of assistance meets the duration of the crisis and recovery. This bill will help ensure states, workers, businesses, and families have a little certainty in uncertain times.”

“The Worker Relief and Security Act would ensure that we never have another unemployment lapse for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Beyer. “This is a deadly serious moment as 30 million unemployed workers face a drastic cut in income caused by Senate Republicans. Congress is making the greatest economic crisis this country has faced since the Great Depression worse. The gap in unemployment benefits will inflict anguish on millions of American families, many of whom will have extreme difficulty paying for food and housing, and do serious damage to the economy. This must never happen again.”

The Worker Relief and Security Act would extend the $600 weekly federal unemployment compensation benefits through the duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis, provide for unlimited unemployment coverage weeks through January 2021, and then continue providing enhanced compensation and additional coverage weeks determined by national and state total unemployment rates.

Beyer and Kilmer consulted top economists and policymakers in developing the Worker Relief and Security Act, many of whom endorsed the framework.

"Crushing levels of unemployment are likely to linger even as some businesses start to open, and workers who lose their jobs need unemployment benefits until the job market gets close to pre-crisis levels.  Extending unemployment benefits will bolster the economy and protect millions of households from financial ruin and serious hardship,” said former Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew. “The Worker Relief and Security Act importantly recognizes the need to maintain critical unemployment benefit expansions while there are simply not sufficient jobs available for everyone looking for work, and to phase the benefits out as the economy approaches normal so workers can either return to their old jobs or find new ones."

“An unthinkable 30 million American workers have already been displaced by the pandemic and the count continues to rise,” said former Chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen. “They need relief and support for as long as the job market remains weak. That’s not only fair. It’s essential to support an economic recovery. The Worker Relief and Security Act is important because it guarantees that the CARES Act’s critical unemployment benefits will remain in place for however long they’re needed.”

A list of endorsements and supporting comments is available here, including quotes from former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, former Chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman, former National Economic Advisor to President Obama and President Clinton Gene Sperling, Director of Macroeconomic Policy for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth Claudia Sahm, Former U.S. Department of Labor Chief Economist (2014-2017) and current Economic Policy Institute Senior Economist and Director of Policy Heidi Shierholz, Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Former Chief Economist at the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Chad Stone, and more. 

Text of the Worker Relief and Security Act is available here with a two-page explainer here.