Building Better Benefits Solutions for the Future

A person snaps a photo of a check with a cell phone.

It’s been a year since leaders across the United States, in order to slow the spread of this deadly virus, started asking people to stay home and limit their contact with others.

Over the past year, the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration has overseen the implementation of new unemployment insurance programs and expansions of existing programs to help Americans put food on their tables, pay for their medications and keep their rents and mortgages paid.

More than 46 million people across the United States have received more than $600 billion in unemployment benefits. Plus, 18-20 million people are still filing weekly claims, with anywhere from 750,000-900,000 filing initial claims each week.

Those are staggering numbers!

The new programs that have been created in the last year to support American workers such as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, were scheduled to end March 14, but these lifelines for American workers must continue while we’re still battling the coronavirus pandemic. That’s why the Biden-Harris administration has signed into law the America Rescue Plan, to ensure workers continue to have vital safeguards in place to support them.

Highlights of the Unemployment Benefits of the American Rescue Plan include:

  • Extends PUA from 50 weeks to up to 73 weeks through September 6.
  • Extends Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation from 24 to 53 weeks.
  • Continues to support workers by providing an additional $300 in weekly benefits through September 6.
  • Helps shore up and then modernize the unemployment insurance system to help workers get the benefits they deserve when they need them.

In the 1930s, former Labor Secretary Frances Perkins led the effort to design the unemployment system coming out of the Great Depression. As we emerge from this pandemic, we have an opportunity - and an obligation - to examine what worked and what didn’t this past year, as well as understand the systems and policies that allowed gaps to grow over the past decades between those who were well served by this system and those who were not.

We then must use those lessons to design a better version of our unemployment system so that we head into the next decade with a solution in place that works especially well for the most vulnerable and underserved in our communities.

With the resources the American Rescue Plan allocates towards shoring up and revamping our unemployment system, we are fulfilling that obligation and investing in a more equitable, secure and accessible safety net for America’s workers.


Suzi LeVine is the principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for employment and training.