As economic news gets worse by the hour, there are now several efforts to address the problems being created by this pandemic. Michele Evermore of NELP reports that following provisions in the House emergency relief bill:
This legislation accomplishes our highest emergency priority — emergency administrative funding for state agencies to staff up to process an increasing workload. States are at historic low funding levels because funding is tied to the unemployment rate from last year — in which unemployment was at historic lows.
This bill authorizes $1 billion in funding. The first $500 million would be based on the current distribution formula and would automatically flow to states that have increased claims attributable to the outbreak. As states receive this funding, however, states with low recipiency must make plans to improve the number of workers who can access benefits.
The second $500 million would flow to states that take certain COVID-19 related emergency steps, including:
- Waiving the work search requirement — it is a matter of common sense and public health for workers whose search involves in person contact to suspend this requirement during a pandemic.
- Waiving the waiting period — it is critical that we get benefits to workers as fast as possible during this crisis so as to forestall or weaken an ensuing bigger recession.
- Ensuring that employers understand that their experience rating — or UI tax rate – will not be affected by outbreak-related claims
Finally, in the event that a recession follows this outbreak, this legislation waives a penalty in the federal Extended Benefits language for waiving waiting weeks.
The Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration has issued an official Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 10-20 that attempts to clarify eligibility issues for those affected by this pandemic. Unfortunately, it is so full of exceptions and legalese that this program letter actually provides little to no guidance or clarification. For instance, in explaining whether someone who stops going to work because of a reasonable risk of contracting the illness or being quarantined by medical professionals, this program letter explains:
If permitted under the state’s good cause/just cause provision, states should consider how they will adjudicate the reasonableness of an individual’s separation for reasonable risk of exposure. One such factor could be considering if the individual is in a population thatis particularly susceptible to COVID-19.
This statement basically says that COVID-19 can provide a basis for allowing benefits if state law would allow those benefits. I am not sure anyone would say this explanation clarifies anything.
NELP and others
NELP has two short pieces describing how the federal government and the states can maximize access to the unemployment and disaster unemployment assistance programs to provide benefits to workers who lose their jobs, are temporarily separated from work, or have their hours reduced for reasons related to the Corona virus.
A number of states and state agencies have pushed for various reforms of late. Of note, this effort by the Texas AFL-CIO deserves attention. And, California’s unemployment agency has released an excellent FAQ which other states should take a serious look at. And, this Ohio policy brief offers sage advice (of particular note, waiving work search requirements).
Finally, a few private companies are attempting to tweak sick leave policies (or create sick leave where none previously existed) in light of the pandemic.
For now, however, none of these proposals are actually being implemented. So, make sure to heed the advice of this earlier post.