Congressman Panetta Co-Introduces Legislation to Expand Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Press Release

Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) announced that he co-introduced the Strengthening UI for Coronavirus Impacted Workers and Students Act to expand unemployment insurance for American workers. The legislation is sponsored by Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) in the House and by Senator Reed (D-RI) in the Senate.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act significantly extended unemployment insurance (UI) by 13 weeks and included a four-month, $600 increase in benefits known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). Despite these expanded benefits, there are still gaps in coverage for those who are willing and able to work, but who are unable to maintain employment due to the global public health crisis.

The Strengthening UI for Coronavirus Impacted Workers and Students Act expands upon the CARES Act by:

Exempting UI benefits from income for all means-tested programs;
Making the FPUC available as far back as coronavirus pandemic disaster declaration date;
Extending the FPUC through December 31, 2020;
Providing the FPUC to individuals with reduced hours; and,
Creating $300 federal benefit for recent college graduates and students.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down large sectors of our economy, and as a result, many individuals and families who relied on a bimonthly paycheck are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. The CARES Act established a new program, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, to help alleviate some of the economic pain caused by COVID-19. Unfortunately, accessing the FPUC could impact an individual's eligibility for critical food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (CalFresh) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Our legislation, the Strengthening UI for Coronavirus Impacted Workers and Students Act, would make a necessary fix to ensure those who qualify for FPUC benefits are not kicked off these critical programs," said Congressman Panetta.

"As we address the impacts of the coronavirus on our economy, it is important to ensure we have a strong unemployment system to protect workers and their families," Congressman Kildee said. "The expanded unemployment benefits, as a part of the CARES Act, was a first good step. But we must expand upon this legislation to make sure that workers and families are not falling through the cracks. I know this is an incredibly difficult time for Michiganders, and I am dedicated to ensuring the federal government provides them the support they need to take care of their families."

The legislation is also supported by the NAACP, AFL-CIO, Center for Disability Rights, Disability Rights New York, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Education Association (NEA), National Employment Law Project (NELP), National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The Arc, United Auto Workers (UAW), and Young Invincibles (YI), American Physical Therapy Association, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Center for Public Representation, Community Legal Service of Philadelphia, Council of State Administrators, Easterseals, Epilepsy Foundation, Institute for Educational Leadership, Justice in Aging, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, National Association of State Head Injury Administrators, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Disability Rights Network, National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, National Women's Law Center, RespectAbility, Social Security Works, The United Spinal Association.

Bethany Lilly, Director of Income Policy at The Arc said, "In this moment of crisis, adults and children with disabilities and their families are relying on the unemployment and other elements of social safety net more than ever--it's crucially important that they don't lose SNAP benefits or have SSI benefits reduced because they have lost their jobs. We thank Representative Kildee for recognizing this gap in the CARES Act and introducing legislation to fix it."

Diane Yentel, President and CEO of The National Low Income Housing Coalition said, "Congress must take every step to prevent housing instability and homelessness as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Individuals who have lost their jobs or lost wages due to coronavirus should not be forced to choose between unemployment insurance and the housing assistance they rely on to keep roofs over their heads. Ensuring that low-income workers are not penalized for receiving unemployment insurance helps avoid exacerbating the country's affordable rental housing and homelessness crisis."

Rory L. Gamble, President of the UAW said, "The dual public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has put a spot light on the need for Washington, D.C. to reform policies that often ignore the realities working families face every day. The UAW strongly supports Rep. Dan Kildee's legislation that provides a lifeline for workers who have lost their job or had to reduce their hours. For example, it would ensure that UI benefits are not counted against working families who also need SNAP and other supports during these difficult times."

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities states, "Thank you Congressman Kildee for introducing the Strengthening UI for Coronavirus Impacted Workers and Students Act and urging Congress to pass this legislation to ensure that low-income workers with disabilities and low-income families with children with disabilities, and others will not have to choose between their Medicaid, SSI, SNAP, and UI in this time of crisis."

More information on the Strengthening UI for Coronavirus Impacted Workers and Students Act is below.

Exempts UI Benefits from Income for All Means-Tested Programs
Under the CARES Act, UI benefits are not counted as income to determine eligibility for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). However, these UI benefits could impact an individual's eligibility for other means-tested programs such as federally assisted housing benefits (Section 8), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This bill would exempt Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits from affecting eligibility for all means-tested programs.

Makes $600 Federal Benefit Available as Far Back as Disaster Declaration Date
The $600 per week federal benefit established through the CARES Act is available to individuals beginning on the date their state entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to enroll in the federal program. This bill would make the $600 per week benefit accessible to those who lost their job as far back as the date the President declared a national emergency, March 13, 2020.

Extends $600 Federal Benefits through December 31, 2020 with a "Soft Cutoff"
Under the CARES Act, the $600 per week federal benefit is available through July 31, 2020. This means that depending on when an individual applies for UI, they may not be able to collect their benefits for the full length of time they are eligible. In Michigan, that is up to 39 weeks (26 weeks of state eligibility plus the federal 13-week extension). This bill would allow the $600 federal benefit to run through December 31, 2020, with a "soft cutoff," so that people who were getting benefits as of December 31 could finish receiving their full benefits, as long as those benefits end by June 30, 2021.

Provides $600 Federal Benefit to Individuals with Reduced Hours
Short-Time Compensation or "work-sharing" programs allow employers to voluntarily make an agreement with the state unemployment office to prevent layoffs by reducing employee hours. Workers with reduced hours whose employers establish work-sharing programs are eligible for partial state UI benefits. This bill would codify into law the current DOL guidance to provide a $600 per week federal benefit to individuals in work sharing UI programs.

Create $300 Federal Benefit for Recent Graduates and Students
This bill would create a $300 per week federal benefit to individuals willing and able to work absent COVID-19, but who do not have recent attachment to the labor force. This will encompass students and recent graduates without the necessary work experience to demonstrate recent attachment to the labor force who cannot find employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.