Feb 25 2021
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today welcomed a move by the U.S. Department of Labor expanding the number of workers who are eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program that was created as part of the federal CARES Act. Last week, Sen. Warner and four of his colleagues raised concern with the Department that policy guidance issued to state unemployment offices on Jan. 8 was limiting the ability of workers whose hours have been reduced to access PUA benefits.
“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,” said Sen. Warner. “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.”
On Feb. 17, Sen. Warner joined Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to issue revised guidance making clear that workers who have had their hours reduced, or who have been temporarily laid off even though their employer remains open, are eligible for PUA.
In the Feb. 17 letter to the Department of Labor, the Senators wrote, “Partial closures are very common for businesses like restaurants that are operating with limited indoor dining capacity, or only offering take-out services, and have resulted in many service workers working reduced hours or being temporarily laid off even though their employer remains open. The recent guidance directs states to deny PUA eligibility to workers who have been impacted by partial closures. This is of particular concern for workers who do not have sufficient qualifying earnings to be considered eligible for state unemployment, including workers who are newly hired. It is clear from the language of the CARES Act that PUA is intended to cover workers who are ‘unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work’, which would include workers affected by partial closures… We ask that the Department clarify that workers impacted by partial closures or their employer scaling back business operations are eligible for PUA, or use its authority under 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(kk) of the CARES Act to ensure these workers are eligible. This clarification is vital so that these workers can make ends meet during the pandemic.
When emergency pandemic unemployment programs were set to expire at the end of last year, Sen. Warner successfully led the fight to include an extension in the $900 billion emergency COVID-19 relief legislation that Congress approved in December. From the start of this crisis, Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur and longtime leader on labor issues affecting contractors and the contingent workforce, has pushed to expand benefits for Americans who have found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own during the pandemic. In March, Sen. Warner voted in favor of $2 trillion bipartisan legislation that, among other things, expanded access to unemployment benefits for gig workers, contractors and the self-employed. In the months following the signing of the legislation, Sen. Warner urged states to quickly implement federal provisions easing restrictions on emergency unemployment benefits, and called on the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue and clarify state guidance in order to ensure that workers were able to receive benefits. He also introduced legislation to help guarantee that Americans who earn a living through a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income (1099) were able to fully access the financial relief made available under the PUA program.