Progressive lawmakers urge Biden administration to revive pandemic unemployment benefits

Progressives lawmakers, including Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have urged the Biden administration to revive the federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits that will expire Monday.

About 7.5 million unemployed workers are on unemployment benefits and an additional 3 million receive a $300 weekly boost provided by their state, according to estimates from the Century Foundation. The benefits have previously been renewed after lapsing, but the Biden administration said it will allow the benefits to expire on Labor Day.

“We need to extend the expanded UI for millions of unemployed workers because this crisis isn’t over. People are not only dealing with COVID surges; they’re dealing with impacts of climate change, from extreme flooding in my district to heat waves and fires in the West,” Bowman, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Cori Bush, three members of the “squad,” have already called for extending the benefits. Ocasio-Cortez told Insider the benefits expiration is a “major concern,” Omar said a revival of the benefits was “necessary” and a spokesperson for Bush confirmed she supports an extension.

But other prominent progressive lawmakers—including Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Maxine Waters, Pramila Jayapal and Ayanna Pressley—who are otherwise outspoken on wealth inequality have remained noticeably quiet on the expiration of the federal jobless aid. According to Insider, the 96-member Congressional Progressives Caucus are still in discussion on whether to press Biden for a revival of the benefits.

Any push to revive benefits will hit a roadblock in the Senate. With a slim majority, all 50 Senate Democrats must vote to pass an extension and moderate Senator Joe Manchin has said he won’t support it. House leaders have also shifted focus to advancing a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill to push Biden’s infrastructure plan through Congress.

In renewing the benefits in March, the Biden administration and policymakers had expected that the economy would largely recover from the pandemic by September with an aggressive vaccine rollout. But the unforeseen surge of the highly contagious Delta variant, which now accounts for nearly 95 percent of U.S. coronavirus cases, has impeded the plan.

According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday, 235,000 jobs were created in August, a drastic decline from the 1.1 million jobs created in July and well below economists’ projections of 733,000 jobs.

“We’re still in a pandemic, and the latest jobs numbers prove that. Doing our part to support Americans right now includes extending expanded [unemployment insurance benefits] and passing the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package to invest in our people and economy,” said Bowman [Newsweek].


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