UNEMPLOYMNET BENFITS

What's included in the bill to extend federal pandemic unemployment insurance?

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez discusses a new bill that would extend unemployment benefits through February 2022. The likelihood of its passage, however, is dim.

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What's included in the bill to extend federal pandemic unemployment insurance?
ELIZABETH FRANTZ REUTERS

The week before federal unemployment programs ended, more than 9.3 million people claimed benefits. With the ending of these programs came news that 35% of respondents to a survey conducted by the US Census Bureau in late August said that they were behind on their rent and mortgage payments.

Cause for alarm

While not a huge jump from rates recorded at other points in the pandemic, they are alarming to many housing justice activists as the federal eviction moratorium has been lifted.

Additionally, the ending of federal benefits came just days after the Department of Labor reported the slowest job growth in recent months. To many, the new jobs numbers are a clear sign that the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic are far from over.

With incomes in many households plummeting after benefits ended, many wonder what actions Congress plans to take to reinstate the programs.

A new bill to extend benefits emerges.

Progressive Democrats, including Representatives Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are pushing a new bill to reinstate federal benefits with retroactive coverage.

Before the programs had ended, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and others had proposed legislation to extend the programs, but they were persuaded to drop the effort. President Biden had made it clear to House leadership, including Chairmen Neal of the Ways and Means Committee, that he wanted to see if there was clear evidence an extension was needed.

With Goldman Sachs projecting that more than 700,000 households could be evicted this year, the warnings could not be stronger. The Washington Post has also reported that many seniors officials within the administration “made clear" to the President that "the benefits cliff poses a serious danger to millions of Americans who remain out of work.”

However, these officials were ignored, and the administration opted to offer states the suggestion of using funds from the American Rescue Plan to cover the federal benefit gap. This policy proposal has one major problem: many states have already allocated funds from the trillion-dollar stimulus bill. When state legislatures passed laws that earmarked the funds for certain programs and agencies, they did not account for the fact that they might be on the hook to cover the cost when federal programs lapsed. 

How long would the benefits be ended under the plan?

During a town hall hosted by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, she said that the new bill would extend benefits through February 2022. The bill would also allow those eligible to claim benefits retroactively from 6 September.

How likely is it that the bill is passed?

Federal data on the impact of the decision to allow programs to end as several million workers were claiming benefits will not be available until late October or early November. What is known is that these programs helped keep millions from falling into poverty, and the ending threatens the well-being of millions of households.

During the town hall, the Congresswomen told those tuning in that she was “not entirely sure the prospects of it,” passing, and she wanted to “be completely honest” about that. To assure those listening, she also said, “We will work it, we will try, but I simply just could not allow us to let this happen without at least trying.”