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Feb 16

2022

An Unemployment Victory for One Client Could Mean Fewer Hurdles for Many More Moving Forward

On February 3, 2022, the District Columbia Court of Appeals released its opinion in Young v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DOES), awarding unemployment benefits to Legal Aid client Ashley Young. The central issue in the case was whether DOES could deny back benefits to Ms. Young after she failed to respond to an email (which she never received) asking her to fill out a quality control questionnaire. Much later, when Ms. Young found out about the questionnaire, she filled it out and began to receive benefits going forward, but DOES refused to give her payments for the time before she filled out the questionnaire. Read more →

Jul 22

2021

Legal Aid Honors Arnold & Porter’s Unemployment Insurance Team

This week Legal Aid was thrilled to present our Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award to Arnold & Porter’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Project Team for their outstanding pro bono service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dan Cantor, Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, and Rebecca Gordon were on hand to accept the award on behalf of the team consisting of dozens of attorneys and staff from across the firm’s practice areas.

In early 2020, shortly after the start of the pandemic, Dan spearheaded a firm-wide initiative to help restaurant workers who had lost jobs or had hours reduced due to the public health emergency.

“Working families who were living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, lost their income overnight,” noted Dan. “Helping workers secure the enhanced UI benefits that were available meant the difference between people being able to feed their families and keep roofs over their heads.” Read more →

Dec 18

2020

Last Chance To File – Federal Unemployment Benefits End on December 26

As coronavirus cases surge across the country and many workplaces remain closed, the U.S. Congress has failed to extend critical benefits for unemployed workers. In fact, approximately 39,000 unemployment recipients in the District will lose all benefits the day after Christmas.

As we wrote earlier this year, unemployment compensation is a critical safety net for jobless workers. It can allow District workers to pay for basic necessities – such as food, shelter, and medical care – and avoid falling into poverty. There is no cash assistance alternative to unemployment compensation. Legal Aid urgently calls upon Congress to extend these essential benefits and encourages District workers to act now to take advantage of these programs before they expire (see below). Read more →

Sep 24

2020

Legal Aid Clients Testify About Unemployment Benefit Delays in Public Hearing

On September 16, 2020, six Legal Aid clients were among the 60 witnesses who testified before the District of Columbia Council’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development’s public hearing on the performance of the Department of Employment Service (DOES)The stories the witnesses shared revealed widespread problems with unemployment benefit processing during the pandemic – including difficulty accessing CARES Act benefits like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). These problems include benefit delays, unclear information, technological difficulties, and other systemic challenges with the current system for requesting and receiving unemployment benefits. Read more →

Jun 02

2020

DC Council Budget Hearing Highlights Need to Expand Access to Unemployment Benefits

UPDATE: On June 30, 2020, Legal Aid and other advocacy groups sent a letter to Councilmember Silverman following up on the issues we raised during the budget hearing, which are still ongoing. We requested a supplemental hearing for the Department of Employment Services (DOES) Office of Unemployment Compensation in the coming weeks to address these issues. You can read the letter here.

Last week, Legal Aid joined the Claimant Advocacy Program, First Shift Justice Project, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, the Public Justice Advocacy Clinic at the George Washington University Law School, and Whitman-Walker Health, to submit testimony to the DC Council’s Committee on Labor & Workforce Development regarding significant access issues with the provision of unemployment benefits during the COVID emergency.

Since the beginning of the public health emergency, over 100,000 DC workers have applied for unemployment benefits. We appreciate the extensive efforts that DOES is taking to process this extraordinary number of claims. With businesses shut and families staying home, UI is often the only source of income to pay rent, buy food, and purchase other necessities. Read more →

May 13

2020

Rules Roundup: Supplemental Unemployment Benefits and Their Impact on Public Assistance Programs

An essential lifeline for DC residents and workers who are out of work due to COVID-19 is unemployment compensation. In the District, the unemployment compensation program is administered by the Department of Employment Services, or DOES. Standard unemployment is a longstanding program that provides 26 weeks of benefits to employees who lose a job or a substantial portion of their income through no fault of their own. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress put in place several important additional programs for workers as part of the CARES Act. One, called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, is an extension of the time period for which workers can receive benefits from 26 to 39 weeks. A second, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, provides 39 weeks of benefits to gig workers, independent contractors, and other workers who are not eligible for standard unemployment benefits, and is the subject of an earlier post on this blog. Read more →

Apr 30

2020

New Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Now Available in the District

Update (5/1/20): Currently, workers can only apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) by using the District’s website. The District is not able to accept phone applications for PUA and is not yet offering an online application for non-English speakers. Legal Aid is advocating for the District to make the PUA application accessible for everyone, and Legal Aid lawyers are helping workers who have a hard time accessing the PUA application. Anyone seeking Legal Aid’s assistance can contact us at (202) 628-1161.

As of April 24, 2020, thousands of D.C. workers who have been historically excluded from standard unemployment benefits can now apply for and receive benefits if they can prove a COVID-19 related job loss or reduction in income. This expansion to unemployment benefits, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), covers:

  • Gig-workers (Lyft, Uber, etc),
  • Self-employed workers,
  • Workers who earn too little to normally qualify for unemployment, and
  • Any workers unavailable for work due to COVID-19 (such as primary caretakers of daycare or school-aged children who cannot work due to childcare responsibilities).

Read more →

Mar 17

2020

Unemployment Compensation Offers Crucial Wage-Replacement for Workers Affected by COVID-19

On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, the DC Council unanimously passed emergency legislation in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Importantly, DC temporarily amended the rules for unemployment compensation benefits to help even more workers who become fully or partially unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Read more →

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 →