Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in $3.5T spending plan

Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are calling on party leaders to add unemployment insurance reforms to their forthcoming $3.5 trillion spending plan. 

The two progressive lawmakers spearheaded a letter Thursday signed by 11 other Democrats to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). The lawmakers said that they wrote the message to “express the urgency of including unemployment insurance (UI) reforms in the Build Back Better Act to protect the millions of unemployed workers across this country.” 

The letter comes as House Democrats are working to assemble a sprawling spending package that is key to President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. The bill includes investments for a list of party-backed priorities, ranging from education to climate change and public housing. 

This month, 13 House committees succeeded in crafting their portions of the massive spending plan that party leadership aims to pass in the lower chamber by the end of the month. 

However, leadership is expected to make further changes to the legislation before it comes to a floor vote.

“The current state of the unemployment system is a threat to all communities, especially Black and brown communities, in many of the states we represent,” the letter states. “As of now, there are no provisions to reform the unemployment system.”

“We strongly urge Congress to include such improvements before the Build Back Better Act comes for a vote in the House and Senate,” they added. 

Earlier this month, many Americans lost unemployment aid they received under temporary programs set up during the pandemic. 

The group of Democrats wrote in the letter that the lack of a provision to expand unemployment aid in the party’s coming spending plan would be “felt most harshly by workers of color, who disproportionately live in the states with the lowest UI coverage rates and work in the jobs with the least access to unemployment benefits.” 

“For example, even as Black workers have been nearly twice as likely to be unemployed compared to white workers, a lower percentage of Black applicants receive UI benefits,” they noted.

The lawmakers went on to call including unemployment insurance reform in the plan an “essential” move to promote “economic opportunity, security and fairness for all.”

To achieve that objective, the group said Congress should “set a floor for UI duration that states must follow, broadly include part-time workers, ban exclusions based on past wages, and require alternative base periods.” 

“A strong and responsive UI system not only helps our entire economy more quickly and equitably recover from future recessions, it is also an essential tool to help dislocated workers stay connected to the workforce and to provide for their families as they seek new employment,” they wrote. 

Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) are among the group of Democrats who signed onto the letter.

The Hill has reached out to the offices of Pelosi and Schumer for comment. 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barbara Lee Charles Schumer Ilhan Omar Jerrold Nadler Jerry Nadler Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Unemployment Unemployment benefits
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