DC’s unemployed workers have waited more than eleven years for an increase in their maximum weekly benefit amounts. Finally, on October 1, 2016, DC will increase benefits for most unemployment claimants.
Over the past year, Legal Aid worked alongside a coalition of unemployed workers, union representatives, and advocates to push for higher unemployment benefits. DC had one of the lowest benefit amounts in the country, despite having one of the highest costs of living. DC also had harsh provisions in the law that disproportionately affected low wage workers.
Fortunately, over the summer, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law four important benefit changes as part of the Budget Support Act of 2016. These benefit changes go into effect on October 1, 2016.
These changes include:
- Raising the maximum weekly benefit amount from $359 per week to $425 per week.
- Changing the formula applied to part-time workers, allowing unemployment claimants to keep more of their benefits when they find part-time work.
- Eliminating the penalty for seasonal workers and others with inconsistent work histories, allowing all eligible workers to receive a full 26 weeks of benefits.
- Requiring the Department of Employment Services to review the maximum benefit amount each year and submit a report to the DC Council explaining whether they will raise benefits that year.
Giving unemployed workers more benefits after they lose a job makes it more likely they can meet their crucial needs. As Claire McKenna, National Employment Law Project (NELP), testified at a recent hearing on these provisions:
“Unemployment benefits stabilize the economy during difficult times by mitigating the drop in overall consumption that accompanies a recession. UI recipients spend their weekly benefit payments on groceries, rent and mortgage payments. This continued spending helps keep local communities afloat.”
Legal Aid congratulations the advocates and workers who spent months advocating for these changes.