Congress has created federal programs to extend UI benefits in every major recession since 1958, often allowing unemployed workers to continue receiving benefits until well after the recession had ended, because it takes time for the labor market to rebound and job opportunities to become available.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a recession that required one of these benefit extensions: By the end of April 2020, more than 22 million jobs (almost 15 percent of the workforce) had been lost due to the coronavirus recession. A disproportionate number of the newly unemployed were low-wage workers, particularly women and people of color, who often did not have savings to fall back on. As a result, the country suddenly faced eviction and hunger crises at a massive scale amidst a deadly pandemic.
Congress responded to the crisis by creating three new programs to expand UI in March 2020, and then extended those programs multiple times in subsequent legislation.