Reforming unemployment

With all the problems being described with unemployment here, there are also many efforts at reforming the unemployment system — especially of late — as the problems access and timely payments have become so obvious even John Oliver of Last Week Tonight can see them.

A major report (over 100 pp.) for Reforming Unemployment Insurance is now available. A press release is also available.

This report describes how unemployment is supposed to work, why national or universal standards for unemployment benefits are needed, how the financing of unemployment benefits needs to be stabilized and broadened, how numerous sectors of the economy have been artificially excluded from unemployment benefits and why those workers should now be included, why the duration of benefits cannot and should not be curtailed with artificial constraints that have nothing to do with current economic conditions, and why benefit levels needed to be increased and expanded.

Missing to some extent from this report, unfortunately, is a problem that is featured throughout this website, namely how recent legal and administrative restrictions on eligibility undercut the purpose of unemployment benefits. Handbooks that do NOT explain the questions and issues asked of claimants, the inability to even see the questions being asked before filing a claim, and questions that mis-state or obscure actual state unemployment law are just a few examples.

There is also another effort at improving unemployment through a playbook of reforms. This effort is not so much concerned with substantial changes to the scope and scale of unemployment benefits as to how states like Wisconsin administer the unemployment benefit program. The goal here is create a customer-centric focus that seeks to balance the needs of a state agency for efficient and reliable claims-processing with claimants’ needs for understandable and easy-to-use and to-navigate systems. As explained here: “The technology itself is nowhere near as relevant as the surrounding goals, metrics, policies, and processes.”

Finally, PUA benefits were introduced during the pandemic because far too many workers have been classified as gig workers for whom regular unemployment benefits are no longer available. A major support group for these workers and for PUA benefits has emerged at ExtendPUA.org.

With PUA benefits slated to expire on 4 Sept. 2021, I expect this group to become a focal point for expanding regular unemployment to cover the workers for whom PUA benefits were intended. The need for these kind of job loss support is essential for a vibrant and stable national economy. As Nicole Marquez of NELP explains:

Widespread reliance on pandemic unemployment programs should be seen as an economic success in a time of great need: our government is providing people the help they need to keep a roof over their families’ heads until they can get back on their feet. In fact, the biggest hindrance to economic recovery is not unemployment; it’s a shortage of good jobs that value the dignity of workers, pay a livable wage, and provide safe workplace conditions, together with inadequate work supports such as child care and elder care.

* * *

This is the moment for our movement to be heard. State and federal governments need to make sweeping fixes to our unemployment systems, not undermine them further. Grassroots organizations like Unemployed Workers United, Unemployed Action, and Step Up Louisiana are demanding change. Unemployed people and their allies are organizing and advocating for necessary reforms that will transform the system so that we’ll all have the support we need in the next crisis, without leaving anyone behind.

Given how Wisconsin excludes 150,000+ SSDI recipients from receiving regular unemployment benefits and that specific action was needed for SSDI recipients to qualify for PUA benefits, this kind of reform is essential.

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