At the height of the pandemic, displaced workers flooded state unemployment insurance systems across the nation with requests for assistance and benefits, exposing many antiquated systems and their vulnerabilities. The pandemic exposed disparities in access to benefits affecting women, communities of color and other marginalized workers at a higher rate and often delayed delivery of much needed financial support and services.
With funding in the American Rescue Plan Act, the U.S. Department of Labor today announced up to $15 million in grants to states and territories to help address disparities and continue to strengthen state UI systems by helping workers understand the application process for claiming and receiving benefits and related services.
The funding opportunity announcement is the most recent step in a continuing effort by the department to improve access and integrity of the nation’s unemployment insurance program. On Aug. 11, 2021, the department announced plans to modernize the UI system, combat fraud and address equity. This effort continued with the creation of the Office of UI Modernization to oversee the use of American Rescue Plan Act funding on Aug. 31, 2021. One month later, on Sept. 30, the department announced the award of $195.7 million in grant funding to detect and combat UI fraud. The department will award American Rescue Plan Act UI Navigator grants to states to partner with community-based organizations to deliver outreach, training, education and general assistance with completing applications for unemployment benefits. Community-based organizations include labor unions or other entities representing workers, colleges or other institutions of higher education and other nonprofit groups.
States are encouraged to partner with American Indian/Native American Tribal governments. The department will award up to $3 million in funding to each state selected. The UI Navigator Program will enable states to deliver timely benefits to all workers, with an emphasis on women; racial and ethnic minorities, including Blacks, Hispanics, American Indian and Native Americans, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Indigenous Persons; low-wage workers; individuals with disabilities; members of religious minorities; LGTBQI+ individuals; individuals with limited English proficiency; formerly incarcerated individuals and individuals living in rural areas. States may apply for grants through March 31, 2022.