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Jan 10

2018

D.C. Increases Weekly Unemployment Benefits

The District announced this week that it has increased the maximum weekly benefit amount from $425 to $432.

This modest increase is the result of a big change in how the District calculates benefits. For more than 10 years, the maximum benefit rate stagnated at $359 per week, one of the lowest in the country. In 2016, a coalition of unemployed workers, union representatives, and advocates – including Legal Aid – petitioned the D.C. Council for an increase in benefits. Our efforts led to significant changes, including an increase in the maximum benefit from $359 to $425 per week, and a requirement that the Department of Employment Services review the maximum benefit each year. Read more →

Sep 30

2016

Unemployment Benefit Increase Goes Into Effect October 1st

DC’s unemployed workers have waited more than eleven years for an increase in their maximum weekly benefit amounts. Finally, on October 1, 2016, DC will increase benefits for most unemployment claimants.

Over the past year, Legal Aid worked alongside a coalition of unemployed workers, union representatives, and advocates to push for higher unemployment benefits. DC had one of the lowest benefit amounts in the country, despite having one of the highest costs of living. DC also had harsh provisions in the law that disproportionately affected low wage workers. Read more →

May 03

2016

Unemployed Workers Demand Comprehensive Unemployment Benefit Reform

After months of advocacy with the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, a coalition of unemployed workers, union representatives, and advocates returned to the D.C. Council last week to demand quick passage of Bill 21-370, the Unemployed Benefits Modernization Amendment Act of 2015.

As background, unemployment benefits provide a temporary, partial wage replacement to workers who lose their job through no fault of their own. However, since DC’s unemployment benefit levels have not been updated in more than a decade, this safety net is not protecting workers as it should. Currently, DC’s maximum weekly benefit amount of $359 per week is one of the lowest in the nation — 38 other states offer higher benefits. Read more →

Mar 09

2016

Unemployed Workers Urge DC Council to Raise Unemployment Benefits

On March 7, 2016, Legal Aid joined unemployed workers and other advocates to ask that the DC Council raise unemployment benefits and adopt other common sense reforms to benefit workers in the District of Columbia. The witnesses testified at the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ Performance and Oversight Hearing for the Department of Employment Services, which administers DC’s unemployment benefit program.

Tonya LoveUnemployment benefits provide a partial wage replacement to workers who lose their job through no fault of their own. As Tonya Love, of the Metro Washington Council (AFL-CIO), explained, “I have interviewed thousands of unemployed workers and for almost all of them, a job loss can be catastrophic.” Unemployment benefits help prevent a free fall into poverty for the individual worker. But these emergency funds also benefit the local economy by allowing workers to continue paying bills and buying needed goods, like groceries, after a job loss. Read more →

Sep 23

2015

DC Council To Consider Important Unemployment Insurance Reforms

“We can afford to modernize District benefits, and we should do so,” DC Councilmember Elissa Silverman stated yesterday as she introduced a bill to bring needed updates to DC’s unemployment benefit system.

DC’s unemployment benefit amounts have fallen behind other states after a decade without any increases. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 38 states have higher maximum weekly benefits than DC, and DC’s current maximum unemployment benefit of $359 per week is lower than both Virginia and Maryland, despite DC’s high cost of living. Read more →

Dec 09

2014

Shriver Center Publishes Story on Legal Aid’s Unemployment Victory

Drake Hagner Staff Attorney

Drake Hagner
Staff Attorney

Jennifer Mezey Supervising Attorney

Jennifer Mezey
Supervising Attorney

Updated December 18, 2014 (2:41 PM): Legal Aid unemployment victory for domestic violence survivor covered by The Shriver Brief.

This month, the Shriver Center, a national poverty law organization dedicated to advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty, published a lengthy “advocacy story” piece on its website written by two of our attorneys — Jennifer Mezey and Drake Hagner.  The story is about a case that we shared on our blog several months ago in which one of Legal Aid’s clients secured an important victory — and established critical legal precedent — in a case involving the domestic violence provisions of D.C.’s unemployment insurance law.  Read more →

Jun 11

2014

Unemployment Victory for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Updated June 17, 2014: This case is discussed in today’s Washington Post.

Updated June 18, 2014: It has also been covered by an article posted today on ThinkProgress.

In a case of first impression, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision on June 6, 2014, awarding full unemployment benefits to our client who was fired after repeated incidents of domestic violence that interfered with her workplace.

The case, E.C. v. RCM of Washington, Inc., clarifies when a job loss is “due to domestic violence,” under the 2004 domestic violence provision of the D.C. Unemployment Compensation Act (amended in 2010). The court held that the provision should be interpreted broadly to protect victims when domestic violence was a “substantial factor” in their job loss. In reaching this conclusion, the court recognized that victims of domestic violence often exhibit behaviors that, while intended to placate their abusers, may simultaneously undermine certain employer codes of conduct. Read more →

Apr 25

2013

Through Collaboration with Law Firms, Pro Bono Attorneys Recoup $50,000 in Unemployment Benefits for Low-Wage Workers over Past Six Months

Drake Hagner, Equal Justice Works Fellow

Drake Hagner, Equal Justice Works Fellow

 

Six months ago, Legal Aid joined forces with Arnold & Porter and McKenna Long & Aldridge to serve even more low-wage workers who have been wrongfully denied unemployment benefits.   Having been trained and mentored by Legal Aid attorneys, the pro bono attorneys involved in this project have zealously represented newly unemployed workers at their unemployment hearings, which are scheduled on an expedited calendar at the District’s Office of Administrative Hearings.

Since 2011, Arnold & Porter has provided generous support to Legal Aid through Equal Justice Works, allowing us to expand our public benefits practice to include unemployment insurance cases. Now, 18 months into the project, Legal Aid has represented more than 25 low-wage workers and has counseled over 100 others.

Read more →

Jun 05

2012

Six Months In, Legal Aid’s Unemployment Project Has Returned $30,000 in Benefits to Low-Wage Workers

Drake Hagner, Equal Justice Works Fellow

Starting June 9, hundreds of District residents will lose their extended unemployment benefits.  On that date, federal funds providing supplemental financial support to those having exhausted their regular unemployment benefits will dry up.

For most everyone, losing a job is a stressful event. But job losses can be devastating for low-wage workers who survive paycheck to paycheck.  Many workers are two weeks away from not being able to afford medications and bus fare.  Families are only one month away from not being able to pay their rent or utilities and facing an eviction notice.

Unemployment benefits provide a crucial safety net for poor families in the District of Columbia.  Families rely on these benefits to pay for necessities like food and shelter. While the overall unemployment rate in the District is slowly declining, unemployment rates in our city’s low-income communities remain very high.  In Ward 8, unemployment is still over 20% — more than twice the overall unemployment rate for the rest of the city.

Since November of 2011, Legal Aid has helped eligible low-wage workers obtain unemployment benefits.  In this new project, supported by Arnold & Porter LLP through Equal Justice Works, Legal Aid counsels low-wage workers and provides representation at hearings before Administrative Law Judges.  So far, we have recouped nearly $30,000 in unemployment benefits for low-wage workers.

One recent client was a veteran and a cancer survivor. He was let go from his job after he took time off to recover from a recent cancer diagnosis and side effects from treatment. He came to Legal Aid after he applied for unemployment and was denied.  We represented him at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  After the Judge heard testimony from our client and his former employer, she awarded benefits because he lost his job through no fault of his own.  Now that he is recovered from treatment, he can look for work and collect unemployment.

It is terrible to lose a job, but even worse to be denied crucial benefits to which you are entitled.  Through our new unemployment insurance project, Legal Aid is helping workers access the crucial safety net benefits that help keep families afloat after a job loss.

Jan 27

2010

More Bad Unemployment News

Executive Director

Executive Director

The December unemployment numbers show a worsening picture for the District of Columbia.   The official unemployment rate is 12.1%, up more than 6% since December of 2007.   African American unemployment far exceeds white, with 17.6% of African Americans out of a job as opposed to 5.7% of whites. 

The Economic Policy Institute has created a useful tool called Economy Track that provides quick access to employment and economic activity data.    Economy Track compares the current recession to prior economic downturns and shows that unemployment is worse and the recession more sustained that anything within the last 30 years.  The crisis is likely to deepen.   Unemployment has risen steadily with no sign of abating.   Even when it turns around, it will take a long time to recover.

During this crisis, it is important that the District implement measures to support those who lived in poverty before the recession as well as those driven into poverty by it.   Measures might include: