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Wyden urges Labor Dept. to expedite jobless benefits

KTVZ file

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Wednesday joined Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in urging Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia “to do everything” in his department's power to help states rapidly disburse unemployment benefits to millions of Americans in desperate financial need.

Due to a record-breaking 3.3 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week in the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, reports show jammed phone lines and crashed websites at unemployment offices across the country. In Oregon alone, there were 76,500 new unemployment claims filed the week of March 15, about a 1,500 percent increase from the week prior. 

In a letter to Secretary Scalia, Wyden and his colleagues asked if the Labor Department has a plan to make sure all eligible Americans are able to receive their benefits within two weeks. “If no, please let us know how long you expect it will take for eligible Americans to receive their benefits and what Congress could do to speed up the process,” they wrote.

“Financially stressed Americans should not have to spend hours on the phone waiting for someone to process their application or answer their questions,” the senators added, pressing Scalia “to make sure that every unemployment office in the nation has the necessary staffing and technology to address the unprecedented number of requests for benefits that are coming in each and every day.”

As the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee and a key negotiator in the most recent COVID-19 stimulus package, Wyden negotiated the largest expansion in unemployment benefits in U.S. history. The recently passed CARES Act supplements every state’s unemployment benefits by $600 a week for each recipient, while expanding eligibility to self-employed, gig workers, independent contractors and workers with irregular work histories for the first time ever.

“We expect the Department to do everything within its power to support states in quickly getting benefits to eligible Americans”—benefits which are “absolutely essential to ensuring that families all over this country are able to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads,” the senators concluded.

The senators requested a response on the Labor Department’s plans from Secretary Scalia no later than Friday.

A copy of the letter is available here.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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