U.S. Labor Department Expands Unemployment Insurance Eligibility

More Americans will be able to qualify for unemployment insurance, including those who won’t work because they are afraid of contracting coronavirus on the job.

New guidance issued by the U.S. Labor Department on Thursday expands eligibility for jobless benefits, including to those who were previously denied because they refused to return to work or accept a job due to an unsafe environment related to contracting Covid-19.

The extension also applies to people who have had their hours cut and those working in schools without a contract.

The change has the potential to boost already-high unemployment claims. The pandemic has left millions of Americans out of work, and while vaccinations have begun, it will likely take months before all workers who wish to be vaccinated have an opportunity to get the shot.

U.S. Labor Department Expands Unemployment Insurance Eligibility

While it’s hard to quantify how many more people may be eligible for aid with this change, roughly five million Americans said they were not working because they were concerned about getting or spreading Covid-19, according to a Census Bureau survey conducted Feb. 3-15.

The Labor Department defines an “unsafe” work environment as one that’s not in compliance with local, state or national health standards regarding mask wearing, physical distancing and other protocols.

“Until now, many workers have faced a devil’s bargain: risk coronavirus infection, or choose some level of safety and live without income support,” Suzi Levine, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training, said in a statement.

The guidance expands the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was created in March to provide jobless benefits to those not typically eligible for unemployment insurance. The guidance is retroactive, meaning workers will be able to backdate their claims to when the program began.

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