Unemployment Insurance Program

Congress should guarantee adequate UI benefits

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When the pandemic hit, Congress passed the CARES Act providing an extra $600 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits. Later on, the UI supplement was renewed at the level of $300 a week. The extra money provided to unemployed workers and their families boosted incomes and helped keep millions of people out of poverty. But as of September 6, 2021, the supplement has expired and unemployed workers now receive an average benefit of only $344 a week. In some states, average benefits are much lower: just $180.67 in Louisiana and $201.22 in Mississippi. Workers thrown out of a job cannot get by on such scanty benefits and may face poverty, hunger, and insecure housing as a result. The federal government should guarantee a standard benefit amount that workers and their families can actually survive on while they seek new jobs. Unlivable unemployment benefits are most likely to harm Black workers because the states with the largest Black populations tend to pay the lowest benefits, while, due to systemic racism, the typical Black family has less wealth than the typical white family to cushion them from hardship when they lose employment. To advance worker equity and prevent severe economic hardship for laid off workers, the federal government should ensure workers across the country receive benefits that replace at least 85% of wages for the lowest-paid workers with a sliding wage replacement scale for higher-paid workers. Workers should also receive an additional benefit to support children and other dependents: a minimum of $35 per week per dependent.

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Idea No. 200