Skip to content

COVID-19: What Congress Needs to Do Next

March 20, 2020

At a Glance

JFF has five ideas that address the continuing fallout as the nation struggles with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lexi Barrett
Practices & Centers Topics

Congress and the Trump administration have passed and signed into law legislation designed to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals, businesses, and the economy. These are essential stopgap measures to keep families and regional economies afloat, and are welcome interventions.

But much more needs to be done.

As JFF has stated, addressing the immediate emergency is essential, but policymakers must quickly address the fallout that’s affecting our most vulnerable populations—fallout that will continue for many months. We and our partners expect even more disruptions as employers and workers grapple with uncertainty in the economy, unemployment, and the need to quickly reskill portions of the workforce. Educational institutions and students will still struggle with the sudden shifts to online learning and interruptions to educational pathways.

JFF is recommending that the federal government take action in areas that address the needs of the nation’s workforce, secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, and low-income populations, and we have sent a letter to members of Congress outlining the steps that must be taken.

JFF is recommending that the federal government take action in areas that address the needs of the workforce, low-income populations, and secondary and postsecondary education systems.

Expand and Improve Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance provides an essential lifeline for many Americans when job security is uncertain. Congress has stepped up to provide funding to buttress affected workers in the bills passed to date, but more needs to be done. Congress must increase investment in unemployment benefits, adjust eligibility, and remove any barriers so that all displaced workers are able to get the support they need. Congress should also help employers avoid layoffs through strategies that were deployed successfully after the 2008 financial crisis, including enhanced reemployment assistance and job sharing.

Provide Adequate Funding for Workforce Development Services

As the immediate crisis and economic fallout continue, many individuals will need assistance in finding and preparing for new employment opportunities. Congress should look to America’s workforce development system to help individuals find new jobs and navigate essential skill development opportunities. Congress should provide funding to build additional capacity, including supporting staff in delivering services in new ways, and it should relax requirements that get in the way of workforce development entities expanding virtual delivery.

Add More Safety Nets and Supports for Families

Our nation’s poverty alleviation programs help families receive basic needs assistance and the opportunity to economically advance. At this time, when more and more families are facing financial uncertainty, programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) must be adjusted to respond to the increased need. Congress should ensure that these programs are adequately funded and that work requirements are removed so that those who qualify are still able to receive supports, even when they are unable to work due to the health crisis and economic downturn.

We and our partners expect even more disruptions as employers and workers grapple with uncertainty in the economy, unemployment, and the need to reskill portions of the workforce.

Relief for Postsecondary Students

As campuses shutter and education moves online, many postsecondary students are finding that their chances of educational success are threatened by the potential loss of student aid, housing, food assistance, and other supports. Congress should provide funding that can be used for emergency grants to cover the basic needs of students who have been displaced from their campuses or face other financial hardships. Congress should also ensure that the disruptions won’t impact students’ financial aid eligibility, by making assurances that time out of class will not impact Pell Grant eligibility, student loan repayment, or Pell lifetime limits. As students fall behind in their academic progress, Congress should provide incentives for acceleration strategies—including competency-based education models or prior learning assessments—to help students efficiently get back on track.

Invest in Distance Learning

Postsecondary and K-12 education systems across the nation are coping with shifts to online learning. To help school systems respond to the coronavirus crisis while also making them more prepared for future disruption, Congress should provide support for states, local systems, and postsecondary institutions to implement high-quality online and blended learning.

We know that the individuals who lead and work in our nation’s education and workforce systems are up to the challenges in front of them. We know this because they are the leaders that JFF works with every day. They have demonstrated tireless commitment to the workers and students they serve, but they can’t do this work alone. The federal government can and should provide support not just for individuals, but for the systems that will be serving them and preparing them for an uncertain future.

Related Content

Practices & Centers

Policy & Advocacy

We are advancing evidence-based policy to enact changes in the education system and the workforce. Nearly half of U.S. workers are in low-paying jobs. Systemic issues in education, employment, and workforce development prevent millions of…