DC Council Labor Committee Asks for Automatic Extension of Unemployment Insurance

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WASHINGTON, D.C., October 9, 2020 – Today, the D.C. Council’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, chaired by Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), released a letter following up on the top concerns raised by claimants and Councilmembers at the Committee’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) oversight hearings.

The letter was also co-signed by Committee members Charles Allen (D-6), David Grosso (I-At-Large), and Robert White (D-At-Large), as well as by Councilmember Brooke Pinto (D-2), who attended and raised questions at the oversight hearings.


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CONTACT:
Reana Kovalcik 
(202)727-1135
Rkovalcik@dccouncil.us
  

DC Council Labor Committee Asks for Automatic Extension of Unemployment Insurance 

Six months into pandemic, workers are seeing benefits end, unaware they can re-apply for continued payments

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 9, 2020 – Today, the D.C. Council’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, chaired by Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), released a letter following up on the top concerns raised by claimants and Councilmembers at the Committee’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) oversight hearings. The letter was also co-signed by Committee members Charles Allen (D-6), David Grosso (I-At-Large), and Robert White (D-At-Large), as well as by Councilmember Brooke Pinto (D-2), who attended and raised questions at the oversight hearings. 

The committee highlighted three top priorities to work on with the Department of Employment Services (DOES): automatic extension of UI benefits to at least 39 weeks, resolution of back pay, and quicker redetermination of weekly benefits for those collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

UI is a 26-week program that workers can potentially extend for up to a year, but many workers are unaware or confused over how to get the additional weeks. DC workers must apply for the extension, but other states, including California and Massachusetts, file the extension on behalf of eligible workers so it is automatic and benefits are uninterrupted. 

“An automatic extension process helps keep money flowing to our workers, which helps our local economy,” Silverman said. “Without it, many workers are seeing benefits end and they don’t know why.”

DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes said in the Committee’s September 30 hearing that the agency would look into whether a seamless extension might be possible.

The Committee also urged DOES to explore ways to expedite the review of claims. Many UI claimants are unsure how to receive retroactive or back pay, and many PUA workers are waiting on monetary redetermination while still only receiving the initial $179 per week placeholder payment. At the September 30 hearing, the Committee learned that there are just 10 examiners reviewing more than 40,000 PUA claims, which has led to long delays. Director Morris-Hughes told the Committee that DOES has requested more flexibility from the US Department of Labor on what type of personnel can serve in this type of role. 

“DOES has had a daunting task processing an unprecedented number of claims, but patience is running thin from workers who need the money to pay for basic needs. In search of basic information, they face endless hours on hold and feel email communication is a black hole,” Silverman said. “We need to do a better job communicating this information, so time is not wasted, and we need to be as nimble as possible with staff resources to help get money out the door.”

The Committee also requested additional information from DOES on:

  • Breakdown of UI and PUA claims by ward
  • Outstanding UI and PUA back pay claims
  • Outstanding PUA monetary readjustments
  • Staff levels, including categories of workers, number of bilingual staff, and interagency volunteer call-takers
  • Shared Work program participants and number of jobs compensated through program

The Committee and co-signed Councilmembers requested rolling responses from DOES no later than October 23, 2020. The full text of the letter can be found here.

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