April 22, 2020

Wyden Pushes for New Employment Program to Help Workers and Businesses Recover from COVID-19

Wyden, colleagues call for national subsidized employment program to provide unemployed and underemployed workers wage-paying jobs when it is safe to go back to work

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today called for a new federal employment program that will help workers and businesses recover from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Wyden joined with four other senators to propose a national subsidized employment program to provide unemployed and underemployed workers wage-paying jobs to help them get through this public health and economic crisis.

“Congress has taken important steps to stabilize the economy in the near term, but we believe bold initiatives are needed to help workers and businesses recover from the longer-term economic devastation caused by the pandemic. Subsidized employment should be a central part of our efforts to help Americans transition back to work,” the senators wrote.

They continued, “Jobless claims have now reached unprecedented levels. The worst may be yet to come. More than 22 million unemployment claims have been filed in the last four weeks. When it is safe for the nation to go back to work, not all workers will have their same jobs waiting for them. Many are likely to continue to be left out of the labor market, despite being willing and able to work. Federal funding for subsidized employment should be available to provide support for workers and employers.”

The proposal would provide federal funding to states in order to offset employers’ cost for wages and any needed on-the-job training and other supportive services. The program would enable states and local organizations to scale up or establish subsidized employment programs that meet the needs of their communities, including by directly employing subsidized workers in public service and infrastructure jobs. The program incorporates lasting structural features, including technical assistance to support planning and implementation.  These features would lay the groundwork for a permanent program that is flexible enough to expand to meet the needs of unemployed workers when the economy is weak and to continue to provide necessary employment support when labor demand is stronger.

The senators concluded, “This national subsidized employment proposal is informed by the successful programs that states were able to get up and running quickly during the Great Recession to place individuals in a wage-paying job. We urge you to consider this proposal and look forward to working with you.”

Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., also signed the letter.

Wyden has been an advocate for a robust, federal job training and employment program for American workers left behind by the economy. In January 2019, Wyden introduced his ELEVATE Act to boost job prospects for Americans struggling to find work and help them maintain employment. The bill would incentivize public and private employers to hire and retain people facing barriers to employment, including the long-term unemployed, people with prior criminal records, dislocated workers and houseless individuals. To promote worker mobility and entrepreneurship, the ELEVATE Act would also create federal self-employment and relocation assistance programs for qualified workers to help them afford the cost of moving and starting their own businesses.