DC’s Unemployed Are Getting a Raise!

September 30th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

Over the weekend, thousands of unemployed DC workers will see a much-needed increase in their Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.

Benefits for jobless workers will increase up to $264 a month, the first increase in a decade, thanks to action by the DC Council. The changes go into effect on October 1, which marks the start of DC’s new fiscal year.

ui-blog-picWorkers get UI for up to six months when they lose a job through no fault of their own—such as in a layoff—and are actively searching for work. Without unemployment benefits, some fall back on other public assistance programs like SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Others face risk of increased credit card debt, eviction, and other collateral consequences of unemployment. UI is especially important for low-wage workers, who often have limited savings and are unable to rely on friends or relatives for temporary help.

A strong UI program is also important to the city as a whole. Local businesses suffer when workers lose a job, because the unemployed have less to spend on their rent or mortgage, groceries, clothing, and other needs. When unemployment rises city-wide, such as in a recession, UI helps keep businesses afloat by making sure residents have money to spend.

The UI changes included in the FY 2017 budget are:

  1. Raising the maximum weekly UI benefit amount to $425. This will increase benefits from the current maximum weekly benefit of just $359, which is below Maryland ($430), Virginia ($378), and 38 other states.
  2. Helping workers retain part-time employment to supplement their UI benefits. Workers who have part-time employment will be able to keep more of their UI benefits. For instance, a worker earning $100/week while receiving UI benefits will have her benefits reduced by $33 instead of by $64. This will make it easier for unemployed workers to take a part-time job while looking for a permanent full-time job.
  3. Ensuring that all workers can get UI benefits for 26 weeks if needed. This provision stands to help some of the most vulnerable workers in the District.
  4. Authorizing the Department of Employment Services (DOES) to adjust unemployment benefits each year for inflation. Starting in September 2017, each year DOES will be required to consider adjusting benefits for inflation, and to submit a report explaining why they did or did not choose to increase benefits for the upcoming year.

The UI coalition—which included CHOICE, DCFPI, DC Jobs with Justice, the Employment Justice Center, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, LiUNA, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO—worked hard for over a year to get these much-needed increases, and we are delighted that they will finally be going into effect.

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