Biden admin. expands unemployment benefits to help those who turned down unsafe work, had their hours cut

Coronavirus

In this photo illustration, a person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Biden administration moved to expand unemployment insurance for workers who’ve been laid off or had their hours cut due to the pandemic, and those who had refused to return to unsafe working conditions.

The changes went into effect immediately on Thursday, but the Department of Labor says it will take time for state unemployment agencies to administer these Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, which are 100% federally funded.

Those eligible won’t receive payments until at least late March. The Department of Labor says funding will be issued to state agencies to help process the PUA claims.

“Until now, many workers have faced a devil’s bargain: risk coronavirus infection, or choose some level of safety and live without income support,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Suzi Levine on Thursday. “Today’s guidance means more workers and families will be able to put food on their tables as our nation fights this virus, while we work to help millions of Americans return to good jobs.”

Those who quit their jobs due to unsafe working conditions will have attest under the threat of perjury that their employer wasn’t in compliance with coronavirus standards, the DOL says. That includes rules related to mask wearing, social distancing, etc.

The new guidance is also retroactive, meaning they apply as if they had been included since the beginning of the PUA program, the Labor Department says.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner praised the move. He and his colleagues had pushed for help for those who had their hours reduced, particularly restaurant workers. They said policy guidance issued on Jan. 8 to state unemployment offices was limiting access to help.

“There are workers all over the country who have had their hours reduced or been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19, and they should be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the CARES Act,” Warner said. “I’m glad to see the Department of Labor listened to our concerns and is adjusting their guidance to states to make clear that these workers are eligible for PUA benefits.”

The new PUA guidance also expands to help people who haven’t been able to get unemployment through some technicalities such as not earning enough wages to qualify.

It’s still unclear how many people will get help under the new guidelines, but they won’t have much effect in helping the more than 1 million people who were denied benefits after voluntarily quitting work, The Washington Post reports.

Need help with unemployment? Email the WAVY team at reportit@wavy.com.

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