Wyden, Brown Press Labor Department to Speed Up Unemployment Disbursements and Address System Shortfalls

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are urging the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to speed up Unemployment Insurance (UI) disbursements and work to address the system shortfalls that have contributed to the delays in workers getting their benefits.

In a letter sent to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia, the senators expressed serious concern regarding the significant delays in the processing of UI claims that are preventing workers from receiving their benefits in a timely manner.  While some states are now distributing benefits under three major UI programs authorized by the CARES Act – Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) – it took most states several weeks to get these programs up and running, and some states are still weeks away from beginning to distribute these benefits. 

“We recognize the unprecedented number of claims and the unique nature of the current economic crisis, but it is unacceptable that UI systems across the country have been so ineffective at providing workers with this critical safety net in a timely manner.[1]  Even in the states that have started paying out CARES Act benefits, claimants must overcome challenges of poorly functioning websites, long waits on help hotlines, and, in the worst cases, inaccurate denials of benefits.[2]  These delays are devastating for thousands of workers across the country[3] who have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have gone weeks, sometimes months, without receiving unemployment compensation.[4]   Laid off workers should not bear the brunt of years of neglect of UI programs at the state and federal level,” the senators wrote.

In order to help Congress devise the most effective policies to respond to these inadequacies, the senators are also urging DOL to undertake a comprehensive but quick survey of existing UI systems. The information from this survey will inform Congress’ efforts to devise policy solutions to respond to deficiencies, and help ensure the Administration allocates resources, technical assistance, and oversight effectively.

The senators are also calling for a nationwide overhaul of UI systems’ technology capabilities, which is necessary to prevent this unfair delay in benefits from persisting during this economic downturn and occurring in the future.

In addition to Sens. Wyden and Brown, the letter was also signed by Sens. Chuck Schumer, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI),Kamala Harris (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Jackie Rosen (D-NV).

A web version of this release is here.

A copy of the letter is here.