“Today’s guide opens the door to relief for workers who have faced difficult, if not impossible choices between accepting employment in an unsafe workplace to receiving a steady source of income and protecting their health and that of their loved ones. “said Patricia Smith, senior advisor to the Secretary of Labor.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program is now available to those who cannot work because they have a health condition that puts them at risk or because their children’s schools have closed, among other reasons. But previous guidance issued under the Trump administration left some leeway for states to stop providing benefits to those who refused to work because of coronavirus safety concerns.
The new rules allow applicants to remain eligible by self-attesting that the job offered does not meet Covid-related safety standards, such as wearing masks, physical distancing or provision of personal protective equipment.
The guide also expands eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to workers who were laid off or whose working hours have been reduced as a direct result of the pandemic and to school employees working without a contract or guarantee of continued employment who face salary reductions or layoffs when schools are closed due to the outbreak.
And it allows those who quit their jobs to care for their children so that they continue to qualify for benefits after schools reopen.
The agency, which does not know how many people may be affected by the action, said it hopes states will not be able to implement the new rules until the end of March at the earliest. Benefits will be paid retroactively.
Address benefits fraud
Addressing concerns about unemployment benefit fraud that is plaguing the nation and costing tens of billions of dollars, the agency said it will work more closely with states and provide more funding to combat scams.
“So far we’ve taken a state-by-state approach and that’s not enough,” said Suzi Levine, senior deputy assistant secretary, who had to deal with the explosion of fraud over the past year as head of the Washington state unemployment agency. . “We need a national approach to help work in partnership with the states.”
States must implement identity verification procedures as part of the December relief bill passed by Congress, he said.
But the “sophisticated criminal attack on our unemployment system” shouldn’t stop those who legitimately qualify from getting benefits, Levine said.
“It would be a mistake to ignore those most in need due to the actions of criminals, who have already complicated and slowed access to benefits for too many people struggling with job loss,” he said.