The Biden administration said in a letter to lawmakers Thursday that it’s “appropriate” for expanded unemployment benefits to expire as scheduled in a little more than two weeks, but that states and local governments can use pandemic-relief funds for added help beyond the deadline amid the surge of the delta variant.
“There are some states where it may make sense for unemployed workers to continue receiving additional assistance for a longer period of time, allowing residents of those states more time to find a job in areas where unemployment remains high,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh wrote. “The delta variant may also pose short-term challenges to local economies and labor markets.”
The White House came under fire from Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill late last month when it requested that Congress pass an extension of an eviction moratorium just days before it expired. Congress didn’t do so, and the White House couldn’t put off the expiration unilaterally due to a Supreme Court ruling. Instead, the administration scrambled to write a new moratorium that covered fewer renters and homeowners.
That crisis prompted questions about whether the administration would seek to extend other pandemic-relief programs. But the White House has been reluctant to endorse a lengthening of the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment payments past the Sept. 6 end-date.
Many Republicans have argued that the measure made Americans disinclined to return to work, and Republican-run states across the country moved to end the assistance early. The White House has disputed those claims, attributing the mismatch between record numbers of job openings alongside still-elevated unemployment to reasons including health and child care concerns.
“We still have more work to do, but the trend is clear: thanks to the grit and ingenuity of the American people and with the federal government executing on a plan to bring our economy back, our nation is getting back to work,” Yellen and Walsh wrote in the letter to Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal.
The administration said that while it is not asking Congress to extend expanded unemployment benefits, states and local governments are able to use their allocations from the $350 billion in funding included in the American Rescue Plan, enacted in March, to continue providing assistance to unemployment workers. The administration is also announcing $47 million in grants for reemployment services.