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WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a Senate Finance Committee hearing, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Eugene Scalia to extend critical unemployment benefits for Americans who are still recovering financially from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the hearing entitled “Unemployment Insurance During COVID-19: The CARES Act and the Role of Unemployment Insurance During the Pandemic,” Brown pressed Secretary Scalia for a response to a letter he led, urging DOL to undertake a comprehensive but quick survey of existing UI systems to help Congress devise the most effective policies to respond to delays in disbursements. The senators also called for a nationwide overhaul of UI systems’ technology capabilities, which is necessary to prevent delays from occurring in the future.
The information from this survey will inform Congress’ efforts to devise policy solutions to respond to deficiencies and help ensure the Administration allocates resources, technical assistance, and oversight effectively. Brown got Secretary Scalia to commit to a response on the letter.
“Ranking Member Wyden and I, along with 22 of our colleagues, sent you a letter dated May 14th outlining these concerns and asking you to undertake a critical survey of state unemployment programs, so that we can fix the problems that caused the delays and make sure they don’t happen again,” said Brown.
Brown continued, “We should not be cutting off the safety nets workers need to pay their bills. We should be protecting workers on the job. And we should be enacting policies that work to dismantle institutional racism in this country. We can’t allow this Administration to continue its four-year-long betrayal of workers.”
Citing the disproportionately high rates of unemployment for Latinx workers at 17.6 percent and 16.8 percent for Black workers, Brown pushed the secretary to consider the adverse impacts of denying an extension of Unemployment Insurance, and the affects it can have on the communities that have already been hit hardest.
Additionally, Brown also pressed Secretary Scalia on worker protections, citing DOL’s refusal to issue an OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers from COVID-19. With no mandatory federal standard, employers aren’t required to make sure workers are 6 feet apart, to provide proper PPE, or make sure hand-washing stations are available, or any other protections. Federal OSHA has received nearly 5,000 complaints from workers terrified that they’re going to get coronavirus on the job, and then take it home to their families, because their workplace isn’t safe. Brown asked Secretary Scalia to also provide a complete list of follow-up inspections that will be conducted.
Brown has introduced legislation with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), The Emergency Limitation Periods Extensions for Workers Act, that would protect workers’ rights by extending the amount of time workers have to take action against companies that are violating labor and employment laws. Brown’s bill will help ensure frontline workers whose rights have been violated aren’t unfairly punished because of timing obstacles created by coronavirus.
Brown has also introduced legislation to protect U.S. workers from COVID-19 in response to disturbing, widespread reports of unsafe workplaces leading to preventable illnesses and deaths. Brown’s legislation, the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act, would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard that establishes a legal obligation for all workplaces to implement comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plans to keep workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was included in the most recent stimulus package passed by the House last month. Brown is now calling on Leader McConnell to bring the House package to the floor for a full vote by the Senate.