CHN: Short-term Extension of Unemployment Benefits; Paid Leave Disappointment

The $600 per week additional unemployment benefit enacted as part of the CARES Act ended in July, contributing greatly to the hardships suffered by millions of still jobless workers, whose regular state benefits are usually not enough to cover basic expenses.  The COVID relief parts of this new bill provide $300 per week in addition to regular benefits through March 14.  Other vital forms of unemployment assistance that would otherwise expire at the end of December are extended through March 14.  These include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which covers gig, contract, or self-employed workers who do not qualify for state unemployment insurance, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which provides additional weeks of benefits to workers who exhaust their state UI.  About 14 million people will see their last unemployment check on December 26 if these benefits are not extended, according to The Century Foundation.  The COVID relief bill also increases the maximum number of weeks of state plus federal unemployment benefits to 50.  The unemployment benefits included in the new bill will cost an estimated $120 billion. 

The pandemic has made it clear that even minimum economic security depends both on access to adequate unemployment benefits and access to paid leave.  The CARES Act required employers to provide paid sick leave and leave for parents who had to stay home to care for children when child care was no longer available, and subsidized employers’ costs for such leave.  This requirement is expiring at the end of December, and the new COVID relief bill does not provide an extension.  The bill does provide a tax credit for employers who do provide paid leave, but without the requirement advocates are concerned that many workers will lose their paid leave despite soaring COVID caseloads and hospitalizations.  Extending required paid leave for 3 months would cost only $1.8 billion. 

Regular appropriations provided for Department of Labor employment programs for FY21 show very modest increases, likely not enough to keep up with inflation.  Job training or apprenticeship programs for adults, youth, dislocated workers, migrant workers, and ex-offenders are funded at $3.66 billion, up $52 million from the previous year.  DOL’s Community Service Employment for Older Americans is flat-funded at $405 million; Job Corps rises $5 million to $1.749 billion.