WASHINGTON—Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing for the White House to propose more generous and long-lasting jobless benefits on a permanent basis as part of the antipoverty package President Biden is expected to roll out next week.
In a letter sent to the White House Friday, nearly 40 Democrats said President Biden should propose implementing a series of new federal standards of unemployment insurance programs, which are largely run by states. They proposed increasing the amount of jobless payments, extending the duration of the weekly benefit, expanding the pool of eligible workers, and implementing a system that would more closely tie the payments to economic conditions.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Congress has taken several temporary measures to bolster jobless payments, including increasing weekly payments and offering support to more workers. Most recently Congress extended a $300 weekly supplement until early September, among other steps.
But the lawmakers are seeking more permanent changes to the social -safety net program.
“The Cares Act’s emergency programs must be extended to support jobless workers for the duration of the current economic downturn, but we must also fix the underlying problems facing our [unemployment insurance] system so that it can provide economic security for all workers,” they wrote in the letter, referencing the $2.2 trillion Cares Act passed last year that first added a federal supplement.
The pandemic drove up jobless claims last spring to historically high levels. State unemployment systems, hamstrung by decades-old technology, struggled to quickly deliver benefits to millions of unemployed people.
Officials under both the Trump and Biden administrations have cited the pressing need to address outdated computer systems and fraudulent claims plaguing state unemployment systems.
The White House has been studying possible unemployment insurance changes, according to a person familiar with the matter, and Democrats on Capitol Hill have been discussing the issue with the administration. But it isn’t known if the White House will address the issue in their coming plan, which is expected to be released next week and includes more than $1 trillion in funding for paid leave, tuition-free community college, and universal prekindergarten.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republicans have argued that large payments distort the labor market by offering people more money than they could make at work, and some Democrats have expressed concerns about the proper size of supplemental checks. The level of the payments was a sticking point in the latest round of aid, with the $400 a week proposed by House Democrats reduced to $300 a week in the Senate.
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