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Unemployment Benefits: What Happens after the Pandemic?

United States Congress / Wikimedia Commons

Unemployment insurance is temporary, and it’ll eventually run out. That’s why one Virginia congressman is trying to expand it, although not everywhere all in the same way.

In the last half of March, unemployment insurance claims spiked an eye-popping 5,000% in Virginia. Eventually, all those benefits will expire. So what happens then?

Congressman Don Beyer is a Democrat from Alexandria, and he says extending unemployment benefits should not be a partisan negotiation.

“We should instead make unemployment benefits dependent on what’s actually happening in the economy, on the unemployment rate state by state by state," he explains. "And that way they would turn off when they weren’t needed, turn when they were needed. It’s called an automatic stabilizer approach.”

But would that end up encouraging people to collect unemployment rather than going back to work? 

“There’s pretty good evidence that as long as the unemployment is that easy to get and the benefits are that attractive, it reduces the pressure to go back to work," says Stephen Haner at the Thomas Jefferson Institute.

“There’s a longstanding controversial debate over whether unemployment benefits encourage people to stay off work, and this is going to test that theory again.”

That’s a debate now unfolding in the socially-distanced halls of Congress as members debate what should be in the next round of coronavirus relief funding.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.