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American Rescue Plan strengthens the nation’s social insurance system

For Immediate Release: March 17, 2021

Contact: William Arnone, Chief Executive Officer 

By: William Rodgers, III, Board Chair of the National Academy of Social Insurance, and Renée M. Landers, Vice Chair of the National Academy of Social Insurance


The size and scope of the landmark $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act recently enacted are rightly receiving recognition for their boldness and for the contrast with what is now widely recognized as much-too-little assistance in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Passage of this legislative package brings much-needed relief and recovery assistance to a diverse range of people and communities across the United States, including:


⦁ workers who lost their jobs and still have not found new ones;


⦁ individuals whose “non-standard” or “non-traditional” work arrangements would normally render them ineligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI) support;


⦁ families struggling to put food on the table, pay the rent, and afford safe, nurturing, child care;


⦁ older adults and other at-risk groups who have struggled to navigate a COVID vaccine system that has been too slow to ensure their protection;


⦁ millions of workers who lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs;


⦁ seniors and people with disabilities who, with access to home- and community-based care, may now be able to remain in their homes instead of in costly and dangerous nursing homes and other congregate settings that have been ravaged by the virus; and


⦁ state and local officials facing budget decisions that pit reopening classrooms against keeping public transportation running, so that essential workers may continue to do their critically important jobs.


Perhaps less visible is how closely the American Rescue Plan mirrors and bolsters the efforts of the National Academy of Social Insurance to strengthen the nation’s social insurance ecosystem. We are heartened by the Biden-Harris Administration’s elevation of the critical importance of multiple social insurance programs. We look forward to building on it to ensure that our 21st century social insurance infrastructure is up to the tasks – both known and unknown – for which it is intended.


Recognition by Congress that UI benefits are both wildly disparate from one state to another, and often grossly inadequate, lays the groundwork for our newly launched UI Task Force’s efforts to explore strategies to ensure that all workers are protected during spells of joblessness. Intentional inclusion of workers in non-traditional employment arrangements – contract workers, the self-employed, and so-called “gig workers” – means that the millions who have historically been misclassified, and who are disproportionately workers of color, women, and immigrants, will now be protected.


This legislation also recognizes the difficulties that older workers, in particular, have faced during this pandemic. Our current UI system failed to protect against the longer spells of joblessness many older workers experience. These workers will receive much needed and long overdue temporary support. While focused on workers who are in physically demanding jobs and struggling with disabling health conditions, our Task Force on Older Workers’ Retirement Security will also assess approaches to support those unable to find jobs that pay a living wage after being laid off late in their careers.


The law’s groundbreaking expansion of the Child Tax Credit – which for the first time establishes a guaranteed minimum income for U.S. families with children – represents a major, if temporary, step toward the assured income that our Economic Security Study Panel has spent the past 18 months assessing. The Study Panel’s report, which was released as a preliminary working paper as part of our 2021 policy conference, includes this strategy in its exploration of dozens of potential pathways to ensuring the cradle-to-grave protection from life risks that Franklin D. Roosevelt envisioned when he first spearheaded the enactment of Social Security over 85 years ago.


The historically distinct nature of our most recent annual policy conference, Pathways to Economic Security: Bringing All Voices to the Table, signaled the Academy’s commitment to ensuring that the voices of people with lived experiences of economic insecurity – such as underpaid gig workers, disabled recipients of Social Security benefits, care providers who are disproportionately women of color, communities of color denied the franchise and access to decent health care, and migrant farmworkers who have traditionally been excluded from virtually all social insurance protections – are front and center at this pivotal moment. Our soon-to-be-released issue brief on long-term services and supports also indicates the importance of considering new frontiers in social insurance. We identified new frontiers in our 2017 Report to the New Leadership & the American People on Social Insurance and Inequality – recognizing how the strong foundation we have laid requires periodic upgrades and enhancements to keep pace with a changing and increasingly erratic economy, in which economic insecurity was already widespread well before COVID-19 hit U.S. shores.


With “once-in-a-century” floods and hurricanes now occurring with alarming regularity, there is growing recognition that this “once-in-a- century” pandemic will not be our last. Large-scale crises, whether health, economic, or climate-related, now appear to be part of the “new normal.” Our COVID-19 Task Force, which will launch its Policy Translation Working Group this spring, aims not only to assess the damage done to our social insurance infrastructure by this pandemic, but also to build back up a system that will protect people from all walks of life during future catastrophes.


The adoption and implementation of the largest and most comprehensive relief and recovery effort and the biggest boost to social insurance in at least half a century represent a major step toward reimagining the economy such that it benefits all. Meanwhile, the Academy, with its three new Task Forces and building on the findings of its Economic Security Study Panel, is launching a multi-year campaign for Economic Security. This Campaign meets this watershed moment and heralds a modern, comprehensive social insurance ecosystem that brings everyone to the table to address our 21st century needs.


 


Contact: William Arnone, Chief Executive Officer


Email: warnone@nasi.org

Since the National Academy of Social Insurance was founded in 1986, it has provided rigorous inquiry and insights into the functioning of our nation’s social insurance programs – Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, and Workers’ Compensation. Comprised of over 1,100 Members – the nation’s top experts in social insurance and related policies and programs – the Academy studies how social insurance can continue to meet the changing needs of American families, employees, and employers, including uninsured or underinsured economic risks. To learn more about the Academy’s work, please visit www.nasi.org, or follow @socialinsurance on Twitter.

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