Bennet, Wyden, Schumer, Brown, Reed Introduce Legislation to Avert Looming Financial Disaster for Millions of Unemployed Workers

American Worker Holiday Relief Act Would Reinstate $600 Boost, Prevent Expiration of Additional Weeks of Federal Benefits, Program for Gig And Freelance Workers

Washington, D.C.— Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) introduced the American Worker Holiday Relief Act to avert looming financial disaster for millions of workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The bill would retroactively extend the $600 weekly federal boost to unemployment insurance benefits through October 2021, as well as tie the additional weeks of federal benefits and new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for gig and freelance workers to economic conditions on the ground. The additional weeks of federal benefits and the program for gig and freelance workers would not expire as long as the three month average national unemployment rate is above 5.5 percent, and will stay available longer in states where unemployment remains high.

The bill would add 26 weeks of federal benefits for workers receiving traditional unemployment insurance. An additional 13 weeks of benefits would be added for each percentage point a state’s unemployment rate rises above 5.5 percent, up to a maximum of 78 weeks when a state’s unemployment rate is above 8.5 percent.

The bill would also strengthen the PUA program by adding 26 weeks of benefits and clarifying that workers who need to care for children whose schools are not fully open for in-person learning, or whose employers are not following the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) health and safety rules, are covered by the program.

The additional weeks would harmonize benefits for workers covered by traditional unemployment insurance and the PUA program. 

“Yesterday, Governor Jared Polis convened a special session of the state legislature in Colorado to try and pass emergency relief for hundreds of thousands of people in our state. The only reason he was forced to do that is because the United States Senate has left millions of families to fend for themselves,” said Bennet. “And although Colorado is going to do whatever it can, it won’t be enough without federal support. That’s why we’re simply proposing to reinstate these benefits and tie their duration to the unemployment rate so that they last as long as they’re needed––and no longer than that. Letting these benefits expire now would be a profound mistake. If that happens, we’re going to throw 12 million people who rely on these benefits into an even deeper financial crisis family by family, all across America––including 122,000 people in Colorado.”

“NELP commends Senators Schumer, Wyden, Brown, Bennet, and Reed for introducing the American Worker Holiday Relief Act, a bill that responds to the urgent needs of millions of workers who are currently unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. These dual crises have devastated Black and Latinx workers the most and it is imperative that Congress proceed with relief that will make support accessible to every worker possible.  We hope that Congress follows the lead of these senators and moves to pass this bill as quickly as possible.” – Rebecca Dixon, National Employment Law Project, Executive Director

“The end of CARES Act funding would deliver a tragically harsh end-of-year blow to millions of Americans dependent on unemployment benefits as their last source of income. The new American Worker Holiday Relief Act would extend a lifeline to these vulnerable Americans by continuing hugely successful CARES Act UI programs - especially PEUC, PUC, and PUA - into 2021. This well-crafted proposal is exactly the kind of aid needed to boost not only these families but the entire economy until the vaccine is widely distributed and the national economy begins to truly recover.” – Andrew Stettner, the Century Foundation, Senior Fellow 

“We are still in a deep economic crisis, with millions set to lose benefits at the end of the year. With a pandemic raging, Congress must provide workers with a strong safety net, and the flexibility to return to work safely. With a vaccine on the horizon, we must put policies in place that will build a strong economic recovery. The American Worker Holiday Relief Act does just that, by ensuring that generous benefits for American workers continue until the unemployment rate goes down. I hope Congress passes this much-needed legislation soon.” – Arnab Datta, Employ America, Senior Legislative Counsel

In May, Bennet, Reed, and U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-Va.) released a draft framework for the Worker Relief and Security Act, which would tie expanded unemployment benefits to the public health emergency and economic conditions, instead of allowing them to lapse after a fixed period of time. Bennet and Reed introduced the bill in the Senate in July. The bill would use automatic triggers to ensure that assistance continues to flow to workers for the duration of the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis even without action from Congress.

The text of the bill is available HERE. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available HERE.