Federal lawmakers in both the House and Senate have included an additional $2 billion for the Department of Labor (DoL) to distribute to help states upgrade unemployment insurance (UI) infrastructure. The funding was included in both the version of the American Rescue Act that passed the House on Feb. 27 and a draft of the Senate companion bill MeriTalk has obtained.
That $2 billion has been earmarked for DoL to use to help facilitate timely UI payments and promote equitable access, as well as to detect and prevent fraud in the UI systems.
More specifically, the bills authorize the Secretary of Labor to distribute those funds for both system-wide UI infrastructure improvements and to states to shore up their UI infrastructure needs through grants.
The support for state UI infrastructure is a welcome sight, as the need for such reinforcements has been exasperated by rising unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. That point was stressed by President Biden’s nominee for Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, at the committee hearing to discuss his nomination.
“The unemployment system needs to be brought into the 21st century as far as technology,” Walsh told senators at his confirmation hearing. “We also have to make it easier for workers that are unemployed to access unemployment benefits and easier for workers that are unemployed when they go back to work to be able to let the states know that they’re back to work.”
The House version of the bill passed by a 219-212 vote, while the Senate is working to get a version of the bill on the floor this week. Both chambers are battling the clock, as several unemployment programs are set to expire on March 14.