Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said this week she will introduce new legislation to reinstate unemployment benefits for millions of Americans after Congress allowed three federal programs put in place during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic to expire last week.
"I’ve been very disappointed on both sides of the aisle that we’ve just allowed pandemic unemployment assistance to completely lapse, when we are clearly not fully recovered from the cost effects of the pandemic," the New York Democrat said Tuesday night during a virtual town hall. "I simply just could not allow this to happen without at least trying."
An estimated 7.5 million workers saw all unemployment benefits on Labor Day, while another 3 million lost the extra $300 boost to their state jobless aid, according to a recent report published by the left-leaning Century Foundation. The three programs that expired that day had provided out-of-work Americans with an extra $300 a week on top of their regular state benefits, offered aid to workers who were not typically eligible and extended state unemployment benefits once they had been exhausted.
The lapse of the jobless aid, set up by Congress nearly 18 months ago as the virus forced an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy, could precipitate a sharp pullback in spending: The Century Foundation estimated that ending the programs will drain about $5 billion a week from the economy, threatening its slow progress to pre-pandemic levels.
Twenty-six states ended the unemployment programs before the official cut-off date, a move intended to help businesses struggling to hire workers.
Critics argue that other factors, such as a lack of child care, are the reason for lackluster hiring and have said that opting out of the relief program before it's officially slated to end will hurt unemployed Americans, leaving them with no income as they search for a new job.
Still, there appeared to be little momentum on Capitol Hill to extend the benefits, even with the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. President Biden called it "appropriate" for the programs to end as planned in September, although his administration encouraged states with high jobless rates to repurpose federal relief money in order to extend the aid. No state has opted to do so.
Such an effort would also most certainly meet opposition from moderate Democrats, many of whom rebelled against extending other coronavirus relief provisions, such as a federal ban on evictions. Ocasio-Cortez conceded her measure would likely meet resistance from other lawmakers.
"I’m not entirely sure the prospects of it, and I want to be completely honest with you all on that," she said. "We will work it, we will try, but I simply just could not allow us to let this happen without at least trying."
The bill would extend all federal unemployment insurance until Feb. 1. If it became law, benefits would also be retroactively paid out between the Sept. 6 expiration date and the date of passage.