Reps. Cleaver, Bush, Thompson Demand Permanent Unemployment Reforms After Federal Pandemic Assistance Was Cut Off in Missouri and Mississippi

Jun 16, 2021
Press Release
“We cannot leave unemployed workers at the mercy of state governments who have shown such careless disregard for their economic security.”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Representatives Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), Cori Bush (D-MO), and Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) sent a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal to express strong support for permanent unemployment reforms and to urge the Committee to consider these measures as negotiations continue around the American Jobs and Families Plans.

At midnight on Friday, June 12th, all federal pandemic assistance for unemployed workers in the Members’ home states of Missouri and Mississippi was prematurely cut off.

“The everyday people and families who were struggling to make ends meet before this pandemic will continue to struggle long after this pandemic unless we put safeguards in place,” the lawmakers wrote. “Millions of people across America are in dire need of support to buy diapers and food and to remain housed, and to stay safe by keeping air conditioning on during this climate change-induced hot summer. We need to enact a permanent response that sets basic federal standards to build a stronger, more resilient and more equitable economy.”

In their letter, the Members asserted that any economic recovery legislation must contain permanent fixes to state systems, with basic federal standards to ensure workers who lose their jobs get the assistance they need and deserve. This includes a federal floor for:

  1. Eligibility, to address coverage barriers that particularly affect low-wage workers, workers of color, and women;
  2. Wage replacements, which currently average an unacceptably low 44% nationwide and even lower in many states, including ours; and
  3. Minimum weeks of benefits, which states have been cutting below the previous standard of 26 weeks.

“Unemployment benefits have been a lifeline for many, especially people of color who have been disproportionately affected by this economic crisis; U.S. Department of Labor data compiled by the Century Foundation shows that in Missouri, Black workers represent nearly 30% of unemployment insurance claimants and in Mississippi, 70% of claimants,” the Members continued. “When benefits are denied or prematurely cut off, this harms individual workers and their families, and the effects on children can last a lifetime. The magnitude of the loss is profound, with Missourians standing to lose more than $391 million from early unemployment cancellation and Mississippians standing to lose $201 million. This loss of income also affects local businesses as families struggle to make ends meet; local economies in Missouri and Mississippi are estimated to lose a combined $954 million as a result of these cancellations.”

“President Biden has indicated that some or all of the temporary unemployment insurance programs that Congress established in response to the pandemic will not be extended after their expiration on September 6th. However, his budget has called for new permanent reforms to the unemployment insurance system. We strongly support the call in the President’s FY 22 budget proposal addressing ‘long-standing racial and gender inequalities embedded in the UI system’ by setting ‘a federal floor in states’ ‘eligibility rules’ and taking action to ‘improve benefits across states by ensuring that benefit levels and benefit duration are adequate.’”

The official letter from Representatives Cleaver, Bush, and Thompson is available here.

Emanuel Cleaver, II is the U.S. Representative for Missouri's Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, Independence, Lee's Summit, Raytown, Grandview, Sugar Creek, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, North Kansas City, Gladstone, Claycomo, and all of Ray, Lafayette, and Saline Counties. He is a member of the exclusive House Financial Services Committee; Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance; member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress; member of the Committee on Homeland Security; and a Senior Whip of the Democratic Caucus. A high-resolution photo of Congressman Cleaver is available here.