The House version of the American Rescue Act – born from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal unveiled in January – now features a provision that would provide $2 billion for the Department of Labor (DoL) to use to help states upgrade their unemployment insurance (UI) systems.

The full House is expected to vote on the relief bill by late Friday night.

Pressing State Tech Needs

The poor performance and sometimes outright failure of some state UI systems during the coronavirus pandemic has become a major impediment to the effective distribution of benefits to citizens during a time of prolonged economic crisis and has been a contributing factor in a surge of fraudulent claims for state-level benefits.

The Labor Department historically has been a major funding source for state UI systems, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh – who is President Biden’s nominee to become Secretary of Labor – highlighted the glaring need for help at the state level during his confirmation hearing earlier this month. “The unemployment system needs to be brought into the 21st century as far as technology,” he told senators.

House Provision Details

The House version of the American Rescue Act would authorize $2 billion of spending for the express purpose of helping states detect and prevent fraud in their UI systems, expedite payments, and promote equitable access.

In order to accomplish that, the bill specifies that the funds should be used to improve the infrastructure of unemployment systems on a system-wide basis.

The bill also would give DoL the authority to provide states with grants for “the establishment of procedures or the building of infrastructure to verify or validate identity, implement Federal guidance regarding fraud detection and prevention, and accelerate claims processing or process claims backlogs due to the pandemic.”

Fed IT Funding No-Show

Inclusion of the $2 billion provision to help improve state UI systems stands in contrast to the wipe-out in the House of $10.2 billion of funding proposed by President Biden for the American Rescue Act.

Those provisions included $9 billion of funding for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) which provides money for Federal agency IT modernization projects and another $1.2 billion for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the General Services Administration (GSA), and others to pay for security and other IT-related improvements.

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While those tech funding provisions didn’t get traction in the House, they have another chance at life when the Senate begins work on its version of the bill, expected to start next week.

Beyond the funding for UI infrastructure, the bill’s only major technology investments come from the Energy and Commerce Committee’s titles. Those other tech investments include $7.6 billion for an emergency broadband connectivity fund, $500 million for COVID-19 data tracking, and $140 million to the Indian Health Service for IT, telehealth, and electronic health records infrastructure.

Tracking the House Vote

The House is racing to finish work on its version of the American Rescue Act by tonight.

Among its busy agenda are debate and votes on a limited number of the 219 amendments to the bill submitted to the House Rules Committee, including a manager’s amendment that comes in at 194 pages, written by Rules Committee Chairman Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca. That amendment includes language that was supposed to be submitted by the Natural Resources, Foreign Affairs, and Science, Space, and Technology committees earlier this month but was not submitted before the deadline.

As of early this afternoon, the American Rescue Bill was making its way through the House Rules Committee, which is expected to complete its review today. It’s expected to be a long night in the chamber, however, as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., has given members notice that he expects to bring the bill to a vote on the House floor late this evening.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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