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American Rescue Plan Offers Crucial Lifeline to Unemployed: Remarks at Start of COVID Relief Markup

February 10, 2021

***For Immediate Release***

Press release header

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 10, 2021

Contact: Kate Stotesbery

202-494-4620

 

American Rescue Plan Offers Crucial Lifeline to Unemployed: Remarks at Start of COVID Relief Markup

 

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee, spoke this morning in the first markup of COVID relief legislation in support of extending vital unemployment assistance, which the GOP continue opposing. You can watch his remarks here or read them in full below.

“We’ve only just started our hearing, and we’ve heard dozens of GOP denials of help,” said Congressman Doggett. “While Republican colleagues say ‘no, no, no,’ to any form of assistance to the millions of Americans unemployed in this crisis, we are continuing our work to ensure Americans suffering are not cut off from help in this most unequal crisis. President Biden understands the struggle of so many families –offering continuity for workers, who have suffered so much from the indifference, incompetence, and uncertainty from Trump and his enablers.”

“Established during another time of crisis—the Great Depression—unemployment insurance assists workers who lost their job through no fault of their own, to provide for necessities without leaving them hungry and abandoned,” said Congressman Doggett in his committee remarks. “This assistance infuses life into our local economies and helps workers secure productive employment. Like so many issues hiding in plain sight now exposed by the pandemic, this patchwork system, left up to states to mismanage and underfund, has failed so many Texans.”

The live link to the ongoing markup can be found here.

Rep. Doggett Unemployment Assistance Remarks as Prepared:

Ways and Means Committee Markup of COVID-19 Relief Legislation

2/10/2021

I focus on the first bill before us extending unemployment assistance to which Republicans once again are saying “No.” The most recent employment numbers from last month show that economic recovery has stalled. As one commentator recently noted, 9.1 million fewer jobs than a year earlier… is consistent with a severe recession.” Established during another time of crisis—the Great Depression—unemployment insurance assists workers who lost their job through no fault of their own, to provide for necessities without leaving them hungry and abandoned. This assistance infuses life into our local economies and helps workers secure productive employment.

Like so many issues hiding in plain sight now exposed by the pandemic, this patchwork system, left up to states to mismanage and underfund, has failed so many Texans. I heard firsthand from hundreds who waited hours, days, and even months to connect with the Texas Workforce Commission in order to resolve issues obstructing their benefits. One Austin musician, Lauryn Gould, reached out to my office for assistance after waiting on hold with the Texas Workforce Commission for 6 hours just last week only to have her call dropped and never reached anyone.

After overcoming Senate Republicans, who said “No” to pandemic unemployment assistance for both traditional and gig workers in the CARES Act, House Democrats passed an extension in May to ensure that the $600 weekly lifeline would not expire in late July. House Republicans said “No” to this lifeline then, while Senate Republicans wouldn’t say anything--simply refusing to even discuss the matter until the Texas Workforce had sent out its last supplemental benefit check. 

Finally, in typical fashion, President Trump announced he would dictate everything by himself. In a campaign stunt, he announced his checks would be in the mail at the same time that he cut weekly assistance in half, excluded nearly 350,000 of the most needy, low-income Texans, as well as those whose original application had not specifically cited the pandemic for their job lose. And Trump abruptly stopped payments after six weeks, when he stopped paying for it by stealing natural disaster money from FEMA in the middle of hurricane season and raging western forest fires.

Again in October, House Democrats approve unemployment assistance extension, but not until Christmas would Republicans agree. Instead of a white Christmas, gig workers had a dry one as benefits expired on 12/26.

Thankfully, President Biden understands the struggle of so many families and has insisted upon prompt action for a true American Rescue Plan – finally offering continuity for workers who suffered so much from last year’s indifference, incompetence, and uncertainty. Today’s legislation answers President Biden’s call to action, giving workers the assurance that support will continue until September, though I am very disappointed that it omitted a month of additional assistance that President Biden requested and which Senator Wyden has fortunately committed to restore in the Senate.

This assistance is particularly important for gig workers, more than 350,000 in Texas, who are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – including many artists, musicians, and other contractors – who previously would not have been able to receive a dime of support. In addition to the changing nature of our economy, over 40% of the US workforce are estimated to be gig workers—a number which is expanding thanks to frequent misclassification of workers as contractors in order to deny fundamental workplace protections like unemployment assistance, paid leave, and health coverage.

Since losing employment has left many without health coverage, we have included in companion legislation a critical provision for access of the unemployed to zero premium health insurance on the Affordable Care marketplace. This is a modest step facing some serious implementation obstacles to reach a few of the more than 30 million Americans who remain uninsured.

Blocked from Medicaid expansion by obstructionist state leaders, my home state of Texas bears the disgrace of having more uninsured citizens than any other state. An estimated 800,000 of them could be eligible for this coverage. For the first time, some Texans, previously too poor to receive federal tax credits have the possibility of support for accessing health insurance.

If ever meaningfully implemented this provision could help us tackle health disparities. Half of uninsured and unemployed individuals are from communities of color who have borne the greatest disproportionate burden of COVID-19 infection and severe illness. Assuring that this program fulfills its purpose, this coverage must be further extended for more than a few months and the estimated 4.5 million eligible should be automatically notified and enrolled individuals into a health plan. Protecting the economic security of Americans demands assuring their health security. Hopefully we can eventually achieve just that.

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