Child Poverty

The Urgent Need to Extend Unemployment Insurance & Fight for Racial Justice

June 22, 2020 | National

American families are struggling with an unprecedented public health, economic, and unemployment crisis, and President Trump and Congressional Republicans are blatantly ignoring their suffering. Tens of millions of workers have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic, and more than one hundred thousand people have died. And while we as a country are all in this fight against COVID-19 together, it is a simple fact that the burdens of the pandemic are not experienced universally. 

Black and Latinx families are experiencing higher levels of job loss, economic inequality, and health insecurity. In fact, although the Department of Labor’s May jobs report showed a slight improvement in the unemployment rate overall, the unemployment rate rose to 16.8 percent for Black workers, compared to 12.4 percent for white workers. And although unemployment went slightly down for Latinx workers in May, it is still stubbornly high at 17.6 percent. 

What’s more, the unemployment crisis drastically hurts our children and their healthy development. According to early results from the U.S. Census Bureau’s May Household Pulse Survey, 55 percent of households with a child under the age of 18 had at least one adult lose employment income since the start of COVID-19. The findings add a layer of urgency to the need for action: the Senate must get to work now on extending and expanding unemployment benefits, especially the $600 boost which expires at the end of July. Action is key both to help families who are confronting an unprecedented economic crisis and to help reduce the ongoing racial disparities in our labor and unemployment systems.

We know that a new program offering expanded unemployment benefits of $600 a week—Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)—has been an economic lifeline for millions of children and families across our nation. The PUC program provides a $600 a week boost on top of regular UI and has meant the difference between putting a meal on the table or going hungry, and paying rent or risking homelessness. It has also meant that families whose lives have been upended due to COVID-19 have not had to dip aggressively into savings or retirement accounts in order to spend on consumer goods. For Jared, a parent of three in Florida, it has meant diapers, wipes, baby food, teething gel, and baby Tylenol. PUC is protecting families like Jared’s from falling off a financial cliff, but it will expire on July 31 unless the Senate gets to work. 

PUC is one of several key ways the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded existing UI. The Act provides an estimated $260 billion in enhanced UI to millions of workers who are out of work due to COVID-19 and the national response to the pandemic. One new program, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), provides an additional 13 weeks of UI after a worker has exhausted their state UI benefits. Through another new program, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program, the Act helps to cover workers previously excluded from the regular UI system or workers who have previously exhausted their state UI benefits. This extends critical relief to workers previously blocked from regular UI, including self-employed workers, independent contractors, and freelancers. However, PUA ultimately still leaves too many workers behind; graduating students entering the job market for the first time, returning citizens, and long-term caregivers attempting to re-enter the workforce are just a few folks excluded from PUA. And clarity is needed as to whether all immigrant workers would be eligible for the program. To learn more about these three new UI programs created by the CARES Act, check out this NELP fact sheet

The HEROES Act, legislation passed by the House in early May, would extend the clock for unemployment benefits through January 31, 2021, and allow participants to receive benefits through March 31, 2021. However, the legislation stops short of coupling the end date of enhanced benefits with an economic trigger to ensure benefits are extended through the economic downturn, such as a high unemployment rate. This means benefits could run out when the economy is still in a deep downturn and families need assistance more than ever, especially in states where COVID-19 recovery is slower.

It’s now up to the Senate to strengthen and enhance UI in additional COVID-19 legislation, yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants to hit “pause” on any negotiations. He shamefully also derided the PUC as a “bonus for staying home”—a tone-deaf and heartless characterization of an earned benefit that helps families, especially lower-income families, weather this crisis. 

Children and families don’t have time to wait. As unemployment soars in communities of color and UI claims climb, we see how persistent racial disparities in employment, wages, income, and poverty all make Black and Latinx families particularly vulnerable. There can be no “pause” on lifesaving assistance for our most vulnerable. Children and families deserve better by our government and our lawmakers.      

Tell the Senate to take action here.