Months after the Biden administration announced it was dedicating an unprecedented $260 million to promote “equitable access” to government unemployment benefits the money is starting to flow so states can address disparities, increase public awareness of the program and boost the number of applicants. This week the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that three states—Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia—and the District of Columbia will split the initial $20 million, described by the agency as first of their kind grants to advance equity in state unemployment insurance. “Throughout the pandemic, disparities in access to benefits affected women, communities of color and other marginalized workers at a higher rate and often delayed delivery of much needed financial support and services,” according to the DOL. “These disparities in access to unemployment insurance exposed serious real-world shortcomings in the outdated systems used to deliver state and territories unemployment insurance benefits.”
Specifically, the DOL seeks to address disparities in the administration and delivery of unemployment benefits by race, ethnicity, language proficiency and disability status. To accomplish it, the agency expects states to use the taxpayer dollars to “support innovative strategies and solutions to promote equitable access” to unemployment compensation. “This includes funding that will increase public awareness of the program so more people apply, improve service delivery so claimants receive their first benefits in a timely manner and develop a better understanding of the equity challenges that need to be addressed,” the DOL writes in this week’s announcement. State officials can also use a portion of their grant to evaluate the effectiveness of programs they create with the federal funds. “To become a more robust safety net and economic stabilizer, our unemployment insurance system must serve all workers fairly and equitably,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh declared.
The $260 million allocation for this new program is part of the Biden administration’s sweeping effort to advance racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government. The costly initiative was launched back in January 2021 when the president issued an executive order claiming that “entrenched disparities” in laws, public policies, and private institutions have denied equal opportunity to individuals and communities and that the health and climate crises have exposed inequities while a “historic movement for justice has highlighted the unbearable human costs of systemic racism.” Therefore, the executive order states, the federal government should pursue a “comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.” It further says that “by advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone.”
In mid-August when the DOL announced it would spend hundreds of millions of dollars on its equity unemployment program, the agency cited Biden’s 2021 order. A grant opportunity document issued by then acting assistant Secretary Suzan G. Levine explains the importance of advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved and marginalized. “This includes addressing disparities in accessing government programs facing individuals and communities including, but not limited to, low wage workers, Black and Hispanic/Latinx workers, individuals with disabilities, and individuals with limited English proficiency, women, and individuals living in rural areas,” Levine writes in the 28-page advisory, adding that the federal government should allocate resources to address the historic failure to invest equitably in underserved communities along with the individuals from those communities.
At many other agencies, the president’s racial equity initiative is in full force. The Treasury Department named its first ever racial equity chief, a veteran La Raza official who spent a decade at the nation’s most influential open borders group. The Department of Defense (DOD) is using outrageous anti-bias materials that indoctrinate troops with anti-American and racially inflammatory training on diversity topics. The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created an equity commission to address longstanding inequities in agriculture. The nation’s medical research agency has a special minority health and health disparities division that just this week issued a study declaring COVID-19 exacerbated preexisting resentment against racial/ethnic minorities and marginalized communities.