Press Releases

DelBene, Warner Propose Plan for Emergency Portable Benefits Fund

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Bothell, WA, May 7, 2020 | comments

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia released the text of draft bicameral legislation that would establish an emergency portable benefits fund for states. Their proposal would create a $500 million fund at the U.S. Department of Labor to be administered to states to pay for the costs moving forward of modernizing state Unemployment Insurance (UI) technology systems and to create portable benefits programs.

DelBene and Warner have been the lead House and Senate sponsors of the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act since 2017. The legislation would establish a grant fund for states, localities, and nonprofit organizations to experiment with portable benefits models for the growing independent workforce. Today’s new proposed bill builds on that effort in light of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, which has left many self-employed entrepreneurs and gig workers with no or reduced incomes and little access to long-term traditional benefits programs other workers receive. DelBene and Warner are seeking to include the proposed legislation in the next COVID-19 relief package.

“COVID-19 is devastating our local economies and leading to a historic rise in unemployment across the country. Congress needs to provide states the flexibility to design new long-term benefit programs to protect independent workers and give them control of their benefits,” said DelBene. “No one should fall through the cracks during or after this pandemic.”

“For years, I’ve been sounding alarm bells about how millions of self-employed, gig, and contract workers are falling through the holes in our social safety net. Now, the coronavirus crisis has put that grim reality into stark relief,” said Warner. “It’s imperative that Congress act to provide states with the flexibility to experiment with innovative models for assisting these workers.”

The CARES Act allowed these workers to access to state-administered UI programs for the first time. However, reports indicate that millions of these workers are still struggling to access these benefits due to clunky and outdated state IT systems that administer the benefits and a lack of federal guidance. Moving forward, this new proposal would provide supplemental funds for states to update their unemployment systems for the 21st century to support long-term innovation and expanded eligibility.

The emergency benefits proposal would also provide funding to states – in partnership with cities, localities, and non-profits – to experiment with innovative proposals for portable benefits, such as paid leave, worker’s comp, the longer-term expansion of UI eligibility, and other programs specific to local economies.

Draft text of the proposed bill is available here.
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