(WASHINGTON) – Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Budget Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), sent a letter urging Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia “to do everything” within the power of the Department of Labor to help states rapidly disburse unemployment benefits to millions of Americans in desperate financial need.
Due to a record-breaking 3.3 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week in the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, “there are increasing reports of jammed phone lines and crashed websites at unemployment offices across the country,” wrote the Senators.
“Do you have a plan to make sure that eligible Americans are able to receive their benefits within two weeks of applying?” asked the Senators. “If yes, please share your plan with us. If no, please let us know how long you expect it will take for eligible Americans to receive their benefits and what Congress could do to speed up the process,” they wrote, asking Scalia to provide responses to this and 10 other inquiries regarding the Department of Labor’s efforts to assist in rapidly distributing an unprecedented volume of unemployment benefits.
“Financially stressed Americans should not have to spend hours on the phone waiting for someone to process their application or answer their questions,” the lawmakers added, pressing Scalia “to make sure that every unemployment office in the nation has the necessary staffing and technology to address the unprecedented number of requests for benefits that are coming in each and every day.”
The bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R. 748, the CARES Act) provides the largest expansion in unemployment benefits in U.S. history, a key Democratic priority in Senate negotiations. The law supplements every state’s unemployment benefits by $600 a week for each recipient, while expanding eligibility to self-employed, gig workers, independent contractors, and workers with irregular work histories for the first time ever.
In seeking answers on the Department of Labor’s plans by no later than April 3, the Senators note that Secretary Scalia committed in their previous conversation “to working closely with states to quickly get them the funding and administrative support they need to implement the CARES Act and to process the new influx of claims.”
Congress “provided substantial funding to hire workers and improve technology in order to get unemployment benefits out as quickly as possible,” note the Senators. “We expect the Department to do everything within its power to support states in quickly getting benefits to eligible Americans”—benefits which are “absolutely essential to ensuring that families all over this country are able to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads,” the Senators conclude.
Read the letter here.