OLYMPIA (March 2, 2021) — When legislators rushed to approve changes to the unemployment insurance system in time to avoid major UI tax increases for employers, they acknowledged that this emergency response to pandemic joblessness was just a start. More work was needed to make the system more fair and responsive to workers, as well.
“This is not a perfect bill,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), sponsor of the legislation granting $1.7 billion in UI tax relief passed on strong bipartisan votes and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on Feb. 8. “We still have a lot left to do to help workers who were hit hard by this pandemic and by delays in getting their benefits.”
One of the bills Keiser specifically mentioned was SB 5064, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle). It would make workers eligible for unemployment benefits if they are forced to leave their jobs because care for their vulnerable children or adult family members is inaccessible.
The pandemic has demonstrated how unfair it is to penalize working parents and caregivers for vulnerable family members when they have no access to child or elder care so they can work. Some have the luxury of working from home and providing that care. But many, particularly lower-income essential workers and persons of color, are forced to choose between care and employment.
Under current laws, “choosing” to quit to provide such necessary care means you are denied temporary unemployment benefits. This denial forces families further into poverty and forces increased reliance on the already strained public safety net, or possibly putting them on a path to homelessness.
Listen as Sen. Saldaña explains why SB 5064 is so important and the minimal impact this important change would have on the UI system.
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The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions strongly support SB 5064, which has been approved by the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee and is on second reading in the Rules Committee. The WSLC strongly urges a Senate floor vote and approval of SB 5064.