“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.
Councilmember Silverman’s bill, the Unemployment Benefits Modernization Amendment Act of 2015" (B21- 0370) would:
- Raise DC’s maximum weekly benefit amount to $430 a week (the same as Maryland);
- Improve the formula for part-time workers who receive unemployment benefits, thus further incentivizing unemployment benefit recipients to re-enter the workforce;
- Standardize the number of weeks of benefits workers can receive, where currently some inconsistently employed workers are barred from accessing all 26 weeks of benefits; and
- Add an automatic benefit increase for future years.
Eight other councilmembers co-introduced the bill with Councilmember Silverman, demonstrating broad support for these reforms.
These changes will make an enormous impact in the lives of DC residents. One DC resident who is receiving unemployment benefits after losing her job of seven years recently told Legal Aid that she continues to have trouble making ends meet. She worries about having money for transportation to look for employment. When asked what impact these changes would have for her, she replied, “It would really help. I could pay off other bills like my utilities bill and my rent and have enough for transportation. It would make a big difference.”
In the past four years, Legal Aid has represented or provided advice to hundreds of low-income workers, who having lost their jobs through no fault of their own, qualify for unemployment benefits. Legal Aid enthusiastically supports this bill and will work with other advocates to urge the Council to pass it.