Written by Drake Hagner

Mar 17


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.

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Jan 10


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


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


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


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


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 →

Jun 30


Study: 75% of “Conservatives” Think the Poor “Have It Easy”

As a public benefits attorney, I read with interest a post about the new Pew Research Center survey that found that more than three-quarters of self-identified conservatives – and almost half of all those surveyed – believe the poor “have it easy” because they can “get public benefits without doing anything.”

Every day, I work with clients who are wrongfully denied public benefits. Who gets this assistance? A woman with disabilities whose Social Security benefits keep her from becoming homeless; a 10-year-old child whose Medicaid pays for his leukemia treatments; a working parent whose food stamps supplement her low-paying job to help feed her children; a worker who gets unemployment when he loses his job due to company lay-offs. Read more →

May 22


NYC Lawsuit Tackles Bias in Disability Appeals

Mezey.RAGLEPHOTO_0154_11780Drake HagnerA small group of individuals with disabilities in Queens, New York fought back against judicial bias in the Social Security disability appeals process – and won. A recent article, published by the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, tells their story and highlights the important systemic reforms they achieved. Read more →

Jan 15


Legal Aid Client Featured in Senator Tom Harkin Floor Speech

Yesterday, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) spoke out against proposed cuts to Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits for people who also qualify for unemployment compensation. The cuts are part of a proposed amendment to a bill that would otherwise extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which expired just three days after Christmas 2013 and left hundreds of thousands of long-unemployed individuals without benefits. This amendment was offered as a way of saving money by slashing SSDI dollar-for-dollar when a person with disabilities also qualifies for unemployment benefits.

In his remarks, Senator Harkin also told Henry’s story.
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Apr 25


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.

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