AOC to introduce bill to extend pandemic unemployment insurance to 2022

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during an event outside Union Station June 16, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is calling for pandemic-era unemployment insurance programs to be extended until February 2022, she announced during a virtual townhall Tuesday.

The congresswoman said she will introduce a bill to extend federal unemployment programs established under the March 2020 CARES Act, which expired over Labor Day. If passed, the enhanced jobless aid would be retroactive to Sept. 6 and extended until Feb. 1, 2022.

Millions of Americans and their families lost their access to pandemic UI programs this month that provided aid to out-of-work freelancers, gig workers, caregivers and the long-term unemployed. All remaining workers collecting unemployment benefits also lost the $300 weekly booster that was created to supplement low state aid.

"I've been very disappointed on both sides of the aisle that we've just simply allowed pandemic unemployment assistance to completely lapse, when we are clearly not fully recovered from the consequences of the pandemic," Ocasio-Cortez said.

While she added she's not sure of the prospects of the legislation being passed, Ocasio-Cortez said she "simply could not allow this to happen without at least trying" to extend jobless aid.

Many GOP lawmakers and business owners have blamed the weekly booster, which in some cases pays recipients more in benefits than their previous wages, for disincentivizing people from taking new jobs, even as the number of openings has surpassed the number of people looking for work in recent months.

Several studies have shown jobless benefits have had a minimal impact on hiring, and that concerns over the virus and ongoing child-care challenges remain top issues for workers evaluating their job prospects amid the health crisis.

The majority of workers who received pandemic aid do not qualify for traditional jobless benefits from their state. Advocates have stressed that workers supported by expired pandemic programs are also disproportionately Black, Hispanic, Asian, women and low-income earners.

Democrats in Congress debated whether to extend the benefits but ultimately opted not to do so.

The Biden administration previously said it was "appropriate" for the emergency federal programs to end. But The Washington Post reported in early September, days before the program cutoff, that senior officials across multiple parts of the government "made clear they think the benefits cliff poses a serious danger to millions of Americans who remain out of work."

In August, the Biden administration called on states to use emergency coronavirus funds to provide additional benefits to millions across the country still out of work. But many state labor departments confirmed they have no intention of extending or providing additional benefits on their own. 

Check out:

4 steps to take now that pandemic unemployment insurance programs have expired

Long-term unemployed workers still have access to federal jobless aid in these states

Where to turn if you still need help after enhanced unemployment benefits end

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Expanded unemployment benefits are ending: 4 aid programs could help
Expanded unemployment benefits are ending: 4 programs could help