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Congress Acts to Bolster Worker Assistance Programs

By Deanna Ross and Zaakary Barnes  |  January 10, 2023

Despite inflation and rising interest rates, hiring numbers and unemployment rates have remained strong. Although demand for unemployment insurance benefits and reemployment services has dropped significantly since peaks in 2020, both states and the federal government are working to repair the cracks exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program gives states the freedom to set their own benefit amounts and eligibility requirements, UI programs must still be administered within federal guidelines. Some states have already adjusted their unemployment benefit programs with new scales for benefits or eligibility. But to help states meet their obligations, Congress allocates funding annually for UI administration.

In the omnibus appropriations bill passed in December, Congress set aside $3.1 billion for the administration of state workforce programs in 2023. These include unemployment insurance, reemployment services and eligibility assessments. States that adopt recommendations made by so-called tiger teams sent by the Department of Labor over the past two years to evaluate their workforce program administration may qualify for additional funding.

The omnibus reauthorized the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, which had expired on July 1. Administered by the Labor Department, the program provides aid to workers who lose their jobs or whose hours of work and wages are reduced due to foreign competition. The program has been reauthorized for one year rather than the usual multiyear extension. NCSL’s Labor and Economic Development Committee has a policy in support of the assistance program.

While the TAA program was on pause, the Labor Department could accept any new petitions, issue new determinations or accept requests for reconsideration. But with the program’s reauthorization, workers negatively impacted by trade may now once again qualify for retraining programs, worker relocation, income support and other reemployment services.

These congressional investments in state UI programs and TAA are evidence that lawmakers increasingly are prioritizing workforce development modernization and readiness. And amid an ongoing employment crunch, both of these factors can help to get people back into the workforce.

Deanna Ross is a legislative specialist in NCSL’s State-Federal Relations Program; Zaakary Barnes is a policy specialist in the Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.


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