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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 →

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 →