Ask Us Anything: Initial Observations and Responses to COVID-19

Stuart Andreason, director of the Atlanta Fed's Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity, and Sarah Miller, center senior adviser, answer questions and provide an update on the first weeks of the pandemic and responses from the workforce development system. Also joining the conversation are Kenyatta Lovett, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor; Kermit Kaleba, managing director of policy at the National Skills Coalition; and Julie Squire, policy director and general counsel at the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

Event Q & A

Public workforce system and unemployment insurance
Accelerating automation in the workplace?

The long-term effects of COVID-19 on physical working environments are still unknown, especially related to how significant this pandemic will accelerate automation in the workplace. In the near term, it’s reasonable to expect reduced on-site staff and operations to ensure safety. Currently, the workforce and unemployment systems have had to increase the automation of their services, and training programs are quickly shifting their curriculum, when appropriate, to online and automated modules. Programs that aim to upskill and transition workers into career pathways with higher probability of weathering the economic downturn and the future of work should be vetted with business and industry to mitigate any risk of automation in the near term.

Increase filing for unemployment insurance (UI) due to additional emergency compensation

Historically, according to an estimate by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 74 percent of workers who are unemployed do not file a claim, particularly because they think they are not eligible for the financial support. During this pandemic, given the massive business closures and temporary layoffs, there is reasonable evidence to suggest far more people are, in fact, filing for unemployment. Data on what percentage of those who could file but didn’t will not be clear for some time, as the job loss and UI data continue to be collected through the economic recovery.

The Atlanta Fed’s Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity created a dashboard to track weekly unemployment claims. The Unemployment Claims Monitor displays data from the weekly and monthly unemployment claims reports from the U.S. Department of Labor. It is updated every Thursday.

Users will find weekly and monthly data on claims and on who has filed for unemployment insurance, including special unemployment programs like Short-Time Compensation (or Workshare), Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees, Ex-Service Members, and Extended Benefits programs. When the CARES Act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that covers gig workers and 1099 employee data are available, we will include the data in the Unemployment Claims Monitor.

Pursuing training while collecting UI

Persons collecting unemployment insurance are eligible for a number of training programs offered through the public workforce system and WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) skills training.

Claiming UI when states lift shelter-in-place orders

This is an open question and a concern to many. In some cases, short-time compensation programs or partial unemployment programs could offer a bridge to ensure all wages/financial supports are not lost when businesses begin to open at reduced operations. The Atlanta Fed is working with policy organizations nationally and within certain states to identify ways to ensure worker safety and financial security as many states begin to lift shelter-in-place orders and reopen certain sectors.

CARES PUA funding for gig workers

The new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) through the CARES Act offers extended time frames to claim UI and offers this financial assistance to 1099 and gig workers. Claim information on these workers has not been released by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) yet, but is expected shortly. Once the data are available, there will be greater insight into who is filing claims (demographic data are expected to be included in this release from DOL).

Recommendations/program changes to WIOA and other federal training programs that would lead to better outcomes

Legislation was introduced on Friday, May 1, for increased workforce funding through the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act (RAWA). Many national organizations have contributed to this draft legislation and it represents a significant investment in the workforce system along the lines of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The National Skills Coalition and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies have commented on the proposed legislation and you can read their statements here:

NASWA Statement on Introduction of Relaunching America’s Workforce Act

National Skills Coalition Blog on RAWA

Workplace safety and equity
Standard training for health and safety during reopening; cleanliness protocols and their effect on ensuring trust between consumers and employees for proper return to business

Lengthy discussions have occurred on a national, state, and local level about responsibly and safely reopening businesses. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines have been issued in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. Furthermore, for states that have begun phasing for reopening, such as Alabama, public guidance has been issued on what the various phasing of business reopenings mean for the employers, employees, and consumers. Links to both sets of guidelines are included below. All regions and firms are encouraged to follow these guidelines as they consider reopening for business.

OSHA Guidelines on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

Reopen Alabama Responsibly Phase One Guidance

National Skills Coalition (NSC)
Job creation proposals under consideration

Two areas were highlighted in NSC’s comments. The first was discussion on including infrastructure investments in a recovery package. That package would focus on standard infrastructure investments such as road improvements, bridge building, and investing in broadband and energy. The second was discussion with public health agencies looking to hire positions for contact tracing jobs and investment in training to prepare people with the skills to conduct this work. In all cases, the goal is to create meaningful access to these jobs and training opportunities to develop the skills that will prepare the workforce to fill the positions effectively.

National Association of State Workforce Agencies
Limited uptake on Short-Time Compensation programs to mitigate job loss; help is available to states to increase their capacity to do so

Some states are actively working to improve uptake. Other states, especially those without Short-Time Compensation (STC) programs, have prioritized implementation of the new federal UI programs (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation). U.S. Department of Labor guidance on expanding STC under the CARES Act was released on May 3, see USDOL STC Guidance. Once states have fully implemented the new UI programs, more states will likely focus on STC.

Tennessee Talent Exchange
Employers providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and safe working environments

To date, no concerns have been raised indicating employers have a shortage of PPE for their employees.

Are employers actually sharing workers? Or is the goal for a permanent transition to new industries?

In the first phase of the Tennessee Talent Exchange program, the goal was to transition individuals who were laid off or being laid off from the hospitality industry to temporary positions in the grocery/retail industry. The plan is to provide a path for individuals to return to their previous jobs, once COVID-19 subsides. Phase two involves training and upskilling to assist individuals who wish to move permanently to a new position.

Are computer skills a big barrier behind more people not signing up for job matching in Tennessee?

To date, there have not been reports that computer skills are creating a barrier to connect under the Tennessee Talent Exchange.

Are there efforts to promote the awarding of some sort of nondegree credential to those who take such training, preferably credentials with proven market value?

In phase two, efforts are under way to identify growing and/or high-demand positions and assist with breaking down barriers for individuals to obtain the credentials needed for these positions in a compressed and online format. Specifically, the program is currently working to identify certifications in the health care field such as medical assistant and medical coder.

In addition to transitioning workers to similar industries and wages, does the Tennessee program also plan on services to upskill workers?

Yes, the program is working with the college systems in the state to identify training pathways. The program is partnering these program with apprenticeships, incumbent worker training, and professional development/workforce training opportunities.

Was the Tennessee Talent Exchange program designed for temporary work as opposed to being a switch to a more sustainable, long-term career?

In the first phase of the program, the goal was to transition individuals who were laid off or being laid off from the hospitality industry to temporary positions. The vision was that these individuals would return to their previous jobs once COVID-19 subsides. Phase two involves training and upskilling to assist individuals who wish to move into a permanent and more sustainable career.

Any estimate on how much money this initiative has saved employers in paying unemployment benefits?

The focus thus far has been placing the individuals, with the data analytics framework to be developed later. Over the next few months, the program will begin reviewing the cost impact of the efforts and will share results at that time.

Description of short-term credentials

Short-term credentials can be defined as anything from a few-week certification to an accelerated two-year degree, with a focus on allowing participants to qualify for immediate job opportunities.

Event Transcript

Stuart Andreason: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to thank you all for joining us, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity [CWEO], in our opening session of our Ask Us Anything series. Today, we are going to talk about some initial observations and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to welcome you all to the conversation. Briefly, while we get started, I wanted to let you all know a little bit about the Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity. Our mission is really to focus on unemployment policies, labor market issues that affect low- and moderate-income populations, and the economic opportunities that they have. We see our function as a bridge between the research and resources across the entire Federal Reserve System and the real world. Our aim is really to connect research, the business community, and policymakers with innovative approaches and to create economic opportunity, particularly through policies and programs that support education and employment.

We launched about two-and-a-half years ago, so we're happy to have you all with us today. Just very briefly, I want to introduce you to the CWEO team. I'm Stuart Andreason, the director, and I'm joined today by Sarah Miller, who's a senior adviser. We also have a couple other members of our team who are resources and available to help. With that, I don't want to take too much time talking about our center, and want to be able to dive into many of the issues that we're interested in discussing today. So, I'm going to turn it over to Sarah, who will talk a little bit about the format, and get us kicked off for the day. Sarah.

Sarah Miller: Thanks, Stuart, and welcome everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. With that little bit of insight, as to the center and learning about our team, we wanted to learn a little bit about you. We have quite a number of folks on the call today, and we just want to get a sense of, first, where you're joining us from. I'm going to launch just a quick poll, if you can tell us where in the world you are joining us from. I know that we're covering prelaunch, current launch, post-launch. For those that are post-launch, I hope that we will keep you energized, but I'll leave this open for just another moment and see where we're at here. Okay. I'm going to end the polling. We have quite a good representation, a lot from the Southeast, certainly in the catchment area of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. But, a lot of folks here from the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and the South as well. So it's great to have you!

We also wanted to just learn a little bit about what your focus area is, what type of organization and institution that you are joining us from today. So, I'm going to launch one other quick poll, if you could just tell us what type of organization you're representing. This will help us to kind of frame some of our comments, and really get a good sense of the folks that are interested in this type of discussion. So, it can factor into our thinking as we roll this series out over the next several months. I’ll give you another moment here, and I'm just going to end the poll for where we're at and share some of those results.

It looks like we do have quite a good variety on the call today: a lot of workforce providers, state and local, EDOs [economic development officers], CDOs [community development officers], education, lots of business and industry, which is great—thank you for joining us! Thank you so much for indulging us in that quick framing, so that we get a sense of who's on the call with us today.

Why don't we go ahead and jump in a little bit here as to what we have in mind for this Ask Us Anything series. We are going to hold regular sessions on a number of different topics—really that are just couched in the framework of economic mobility and resilience—how we set up the system, how we modify the system, and certainly to the workforce supports that we provide to the participants that we serve. Our cadence is roughly going to be about every three weeks or so, but we do aim for this to be conversational, with the exception of today, where we have quite an impressive panel of experts on the call with us today.

In large part, we want the series to be presentation light and discussion heavy, but that is absolutely where you come in. We want this to be an open discussion and a two-way road, so please bring your brains to the game. Bring your thoughts, insights, and voice, the perspectives from the position that you hold, the organization that you're serving, the participants that you're providing service to. We want this to be a stand-in for what would otherwise be a face-to-face, real-time discussion on what's going on in the field. And, we want to be able to immediately shed some light on the challenges that you're facing, and surface and elevate some of the solutions that we're beginning to implement, not just for our own benefit, but because we are highly interested in all the work that you're doing. We hope that this will create a stand-in for a just-in-time, turnkey kind of community of practice.

So, we certainly might not have all of the answers. We will bring in the experts as we can. But we do want to tap into the collective brain trust that we have on the call with us today, from across the country and from all of the various organizations which you represent. We're listening, not just through this series, but in all of the work that we're doing at the Center, at the Atlanta Federal Reserve, and across the Federal Reserve System. We are engaging in a number of different outreach activities so that we can hear what's going on. We are trying to respond through research, through data, and through discussions like this, and are absolutely committed to keeping this conversation going.

So for today, in general, just some quick framing. We'll touch a little bit on what's been happening in the past six weeks, certainly focus our discussion around the effect that that's had on workers, and on the workforce system and policy. We hope that not just through today, but through this series in general, we can really frame our discussion around forward-facing responses and ideas. We know that you're facing challenges every day, and want to be able to truly discuss that and elevate these solutions and development at whatever stage they may be. If it's just a concept, an incubation, a pilot, if it's an up-and-running program that's being evaluated, we want to be able to bring that to the service.

On the call today—and we'll introduce them in just a moment—we have some amazing experts that can provide some insight at the national, state, and localized perspectives. They also care about focusing on this economic-mobility-and-resilience framework, certainly as a system and as a collection of professionals in this space move into recovery. We're very excited to be able to highlight a promising employment model and strategy that's currently being implemented in the state of Tennessee, and we have the thought leaders behind that program on the call with us today. But in large part, this entire discussion, today and into the series, we really want to focus on what it is that we need as we respond and collectively move into recovery as hopefully a stronger system.

So, to help us to put our framing around this series and to get our calendar set as we identify various topics of importance and experts and programs, let me do my final poll. We just want to get a quick sense of what your priorities are. We're recognizing that these shift at a moment's notice, and this is just where you're at today, but if you can give us a sense of where your priorities are.

We have a number of different topics here that we certainly have a lot of expertise—both in house at the Federal Reserve, but of course across the System—that we want to be able to tap from your worlds to bring into the fold. So I know that there's a number of options here. I'm going to end the poll quickly to see where we're at here. So job quality, benefits cliffs, career pathway, work base, learning, employer engagement. Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense to me, and I'm glad that our employer and industry partners on the phone have likely contributed to that priority or will benefit from that discussion. So thank you. This is very valuable information for us as we move into kind of calendaring this work.

Let’s talk just quickly here today about our mechanism in these socially distant discussions. We know it's not as ideal as having a coffee, gathering around a table. I can't believe that I really miss the days where we're in crowded hotel banquet rooms where I'm standing in line for some congealed oatmeal in the morning, but we will get there. And certainly between now and then, we will absolutely, with all confidence, be able to add technical skills to our LinkedIn. But, as we continue in this pasture, we do want this to be an open conversation, so please, questions, comments, best practices—any ideas that you have, we want to hear it.

Certainly review for most, but we are using Zoom, which I know is not a platform that everybody uses all of the time, so just functionally, the Q&A button is at the top of your screen. Just type in your question. you can choose to send that in anonymously, and we'll be able to answer those as best we can. There's quite a few folks on the call today, so we'll do our level best to get all of the answers to you, but rest assured we are recording this conversation and collecting all of the questions that are submitted. For the ones that we can’t answer today or that we'll answer after the fact, we will provide a larger Q&A digest/readout for you as a companion to this recording.

Please join us next time, times, several times, so stay tuned. New invitations and registrations are going to come out in advance of each of these sessions. As I mentioned, roughly every three weeks, but please do [join us next time]. We thank you for taking that pulse priority survey for today, but you are welcome, at any point, to reach out to Stuart or myself with any other priorities, suggestions, projects that you would love to showcase so that we can really curate a timely, relevant, and meaningful conversation for everyone. With that, though, let's dig into who we have on the call today. I'm going to turn it back over to Stu to introduce our esteemed colleagues on the call today.

Andreason: Thanks. We're really lucky to be joined today by the panelists that we have, for all of the work that they do, and the work that their organizations do. Today, we're going to hear from Kermit Kaleba, who's the managing director of policy at National Skills Coalition. We're going to hear from Julie Squire, who's the policy director and general counsel at the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, also known as NASWA. We're going to hear from Kenyatta Lovett, who's the assistant commissioner of labor at the Tennessee Department of Labor, and his colleague Tyra Copas, who works with him at the Department of Labor and is the state apprenticeship director. We're going to get to hear about some broad trends and specific strategies that all of these organizations have taken. So with that, I'm just going to give a very, very broad view of where things are, and then turn it over to them to get to chat about some of the things.

I really want to start by just saying that COVID-19 is really having a profound effect on people, health and public health, and economic stress. It's been causing unique and different effects in the labor market and for workers. We're really still trying to understand what all of that means, and to be honest, it probably feels like it's been quite some time, but it's really, in the grand scheme of things, been an incredibly short period of time. It's too early to really fully understand the extent or duration of where the impacts are, but they're likely to be relatively large, and we really are working to figure some of that out. We hope that the questions and comments that you bring today are part of that ability for us to learn more.

And, I will just highlight that the Federal Reserve has a number of kind of longstanding, existing outreach to communities, businesses, and policymakers. We’re working to deepen that now, to learn more about how things have evolved, and really focus in on some of our low and moderate income neighborhoods that are really most vulnerable to economic shocks. So now, I'm going to turn it over to the heart of our discussion, our panelists and our guests today. Join me in welcoming Kermit Kaleba from National Skills Coalition, who's going to talk about some of the work that they've been doing.

Kaleba: Thank you so much, and good afternoon to everybody. Thank you, Stuart and Sarah, and the rest of the team at the Atlanta Fed. National Skills Coalition has long appreciated our partnership with you, and we appreciate you taking the lead on setting up these conversations. For those of you who aren't familiar with National Skills Coalition, we're a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. We're a multi-stakeholder coalition of business leaders, labor, community colleges, community-based organizations, state and local government officials, who advocate for expanded access to high quality education and training. So today, I'm going to talk about some of the things that we're hearing from the field, some of the key themes we've been looking at as we think about our advocacy strategy, and the solutions that we need as we start to respond to the economic crisis that's in front of us.

I'll just make a couple of quick, sort of overarching comments, some principles that have been guiding our work. The first principle I would offer is that, we recognize that we need to be thinking about this both in terms of the short-term and the long-term. So when thinking about responding to this crisis, we need to be thinking about the immediate needs of workers and businesses who are being impacted by the economic crisis right now, and have immediate needs that need to be addressed. But, we also need to start thinking about what an economic recovery is going to look like. As Stuart said, we don't know what's going to happen, we don't know what the shape of the recovery is going to be, but what we can say at this point – that this is likely going to be a more significant economic disruption than what we saw even during the Great Recession.

We expect to be at 30 million people having applied for unemployment benefits over the course of the past six weeks. At the height of the Great Recession, we never had unemployment go above 15.3 million people. So, we are going to be looking at a significant economic shock for workforce professionals, for educational professionals, and for all of the other stakeholders that make up workforce development. This is going to be a challenge, but I think we're up to it. We need to be thinking about how we prepare for the recovery.

I think the second point or theme that has been guiding our work is we want to make sure that education and training is at the center of how we're thinking about our overall response. Workforce development needs to be a part of our overall response. For a lot of times, policymakers have tended to treat job training and education as a last resort if somebody can't find a job. But as we know, there's going to be millions of workers who are going to have to transition to new industries. They're going to have to learn to move into new occupations, and develop skills and credentials in order to be successful. In order to be responsive to that, we're going to need to make sure that we have meaningful access to career pathways and education training in order for those individuals to get the skills and the credentials they need in order to transition into family supporting jobs moving forward.

And the last piece, is we need to make sure that this is an inclusive economic recovery, when we get to economic recovery. We know that even before this crisis hit, when the economy was very strong, it wasn't strong for everyone. There were a lot of folks who were being left out of well-paying jobs and economic opportunities. So we, at National Skills Coalition, are committed to the idea that we need to make sure that however we come out of this economic crisis, when we come out on the other side, we shouldn't just settle for the status quo. We should be thinking about how we are building systems and programs and interventions to make sure that we come out stronger than we went into this economic crisis with. How can we make sure that economic opportunity is equitably distributed to everyone, including those individuals who historically been left out of economic and education opportunities? So, just a couple of key things that have been guiding our work.

There is sort of six key areas that we've been focusing on in terms of our conversations with policymakers up on the Hill, and with the administration, and are starting to talk about with state policymakers as well. The six areas that we're looking at are removing barriers to the nation's safety net, and investing in pathways to careers. We don't know yet how many people are going to end up enrolling in public assistance programs like SNAP and TANF and other, safety net programs. We know that those numbers are likely to go up. Congress and the administration have made some important first steps in terms of making sure that we're lifting restrictions, and making sure that we're lifting work requirements that may make it harder for people to stay on public assistance.

It's important for us, as we think about our economic recovery, to also be thinking about how we're investing in helping those individuals who are on public assistance programs now, and how they are going to transition into the labor market of the future. The states and other stakeholders have really taken the lead over the last decade in building career pathways through SNAP and TANF and other programs. We should use this as an opportunity to build and to expand and scale up those efforts. We think that it's going to be really important to be focusing on economic sustainability for those individuals who find themselves on safety net programs.

The second area that we're doing a lot of work on, and just put out a medium piece on this earlier this week, is around strengthening the way that we think about dislocated workers and reemploying workers. Again, we have a lot of systems that are built around the idea that unemployment insurance and other systems are very temporary programs that are intended to get you back to work as quickly as possible. We know that's not going to be possible for millions of Americans who are finding themselves on unemployment insurance in this current crisis.

So, we need to be thinking about “how do we make sure that they continue to have the benefits that they need in order to be successful,” in order to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families; but, we also need to be thinking about “how do we help those individuals, particularly those individuals who aren't going to be able to go back to their old jobs or their old careers? How do we create pathways for them to be successful?” So, thinking about how will we create training opportunities for individuals who are on unemployment insurance and make sure that they're able to get the time that they need in order to complete and succeed in those programs.

The third area that we've been looking at is around helping small and medium size businesses avert layoffs. Congress has taken some steps around that with investments in job sharing programs and obviously the Payroll Protection Program, but we also want to be thinking about how we're helping small and medium size businesses, in particular, prepare for the recovery and for the next generation of work. We know that one of the first things that goes when the economy goes south for businesses is their travel and training budgets, so how do we make sure that we're investing in incumbent worker training to make sure that workers can get the skills that they need to adapt to new technologies and new processes? And how do we make sure that businesses have the resources they need in order to stay competitive in today's economy?

The fourth area that we've been looking at is: how do we think about rapidly redeploying to respond to immediate shortages? We've gotten some great stories from the field about businesses and other stakeholders who have really rapidly switched their business models in order to respond – from health care systems that are rapidly hiring to respond to the influx of cases to manufacturers who have been shifting their models in order to create personal protective equipment. That's really important, and we need to be investing in our workforce system to be able to make sure that we can continue that work. I know that Kenyatta and Tyra are going to talk about the program that they're running in Tennessee, which I think is really innovative; but, we need more resources in order to do what they're doing. So, we're calling on Congress to make a significant investment in supporting the traditional workforce system under WIOA, and also making sure that we have additional resources to expand capacity in our higher education and our adult education systems.

The fifth area that we're focused on is around updating policies to respond to this marketplace disruption. One particular example is around digital literacy. As folks may or may not know, every education and training provider in the country has now had to shift to an online learning model in order to stay afloat, and we've learned a couple of things. One is that we really do need to be investing in the infrastructure to deliver those programs, and that it is not easy to shift everything from an in-person to an online model, so we do need to invest in resources to make that effective. We also need to make sure that people can benefit from those programs.

We have a paper that's coming out next month that shows we have about 48 million US workers, adults in this country, who have either limited or no digital literacy proficiency – which means they lack the ability to really participate in today's digital economy. We need to be making sure that those individuals have the skills and training, in order to be able to take advantage of new technologies that are emerging in industry, and even to participate in education and training. So, we need to be thinking about how we're investing in that.

And then sort of the last piece that we're focused on from a policy perspective is job creation. There has been a lot of discussion up on the Hill here in Washington about infrastructure. I know that we're talking about investing in public health workforce, like contact tracers. There's a lot of investments that we can be making to create new jobs. We support that, but we also want to make sure that there's meaningful training opportunities for people to move into those jobs. And we want to make sure that the people who are in the communities that are being impacted by those job creation investments, or are being supported by their job creation investments, have an opportunity to participate and take advantage of those jobs through training.

So, those are kind of the main areas that we have been focused on from a policy perspective. I look forward to talking with folks at the end of the call, and hearing thoughts or comments that folks may have on this. One last point, I think we want to make sure that we're defining, measuring, and reporting on what's working. As we move into the recovery phase, we put out trillions of dollars in public investments in helping to protect jobs, and businesses, and that's important. As we move forward, we want to make sure that we're capturing information about what works and what doesn't, and making sure that it guides our policy and workforce investments moving forward. So, that's my short pitch. And you have here my email address and a link to our website with all of the resources that we've put out around COVID-19 response.

Andreason: Thank you so much. I'm going to turn now to Julie, and just in that transition period, I want to say that we're getting some really interesting questions that we're looking forward to chatting about. Some about the role that the workforce system can play in automation, and what role automation is going to play in recovery as well as some of the disparate impacts between young adults and seniors in the workforce. And then also how programs can raise competence and raise explicit lens to recovery in how we do all of these things at scale. So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Julie, but just wanted to mention those to start to prime the conversation.

Julie Squire: Thank you, Stuart. Hello, everyone, and thank you also to Sarah for inviting me here to join you today. Again, my name is Julie Squire, and I am a Policy Director and General Counsel at the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, or NASWA. We are the association for the state workforce agencies working in the areas of unemployment insurance, workforce development, veterans reemployment programs, labor market information. Tyra and Kenyatta's agencies are members of NASWA. While we do a lot of work on workforce development and have a lot of expertise in workforce development, I'm going to focus today, the unemployment insurance initiatives in response to COVID-19.

But wanted to start off with, because this whole experience has some flashbacks to my prior world, when I worked with the Maryland Department of Labor in workforce development, including serving as Deputy Director and Unemployment Insurance Director during the Great Recession. In 2008 to 2010, there were some similarities, but this is dramatically different. There were similarities in that we had new economic programs, aiming at unemployment insurance in order to assist with the Great Recession, and now we have that in response to COVID-19.

In preparation for the call today, I just wanted to share that I looked back at statistics in Maryland, which is just one state, but all of the states have similar horrifying statistics. During the Great Recession, the claim load was steady, it was relatively high, but it was ongoing for years. The two highest weeks in Maryland during the Great Recession was a week in January of 2009, and then in 2010. And that peak, for a week of claims, was 12,500 in the state of Maryland. Well, looking at the first week alone of COVID-19, Maryland had 41,000 initial claims, and then the following week it was another 85,000 claims. Then the week ending April 4th it was over 100,000 claims in one week. So, the unemployment insurance claims we're seeing drastically dwarf what we saw during the Great Recession.

Back in the Great Recession, you'll recall there were a series of Federal programs aimed at helping both the individual and to stimulate the economy. We're going to be having a lot of discussions about these new programs that have been put in effect. I'm just going to briefly review those new initiatives as requested by Stuart and Sarah. The most significant new program is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or it's being called PUA. This is a new program under the CARES Act. The CARES Act, of course, is the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020. It was just signed by the President on March 27th, so not too long ago. What this does, is it really expands payment of assistance beyond the typical unemployment insurance program.

In the Great Recession, unemployment insurance agencies paid benefits for individuals who had lost employment with an employer. And what the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program does is expands assistance beyond the typical employee/employer relationship, and it provides assistance not only for individuals who have exhausted regular UI, but for the first time, assistance for self-employed individuals. Paying self-employed individuals through the unemployment insurance agencies on a statewide basis is something brand new. It's never been done before. So now, this is what this program is.

I'll just provide some highlights on the basics of PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It's important that it's a Federal program, but it's administered by the states as with other unemployment insurance programs. The benefits for PUA are 100% federally funded. They're not going to come out of your UI trust fund in your states, and that's important to the employers on the phone. PUA provides benefits to those who have already exhausted or are not eligible for regular UI, plus individuals who are self-employed. It's up to 39 weeks of benefits, and the key to PUA is that the individual must have lost their job or not have earnings because of a COVID-19 related eligibility issue. And there’s are about... I think there are 10 eligibility requirements. You can have one of those, but they're basically a list as to I can't work because of COVID-19 because of, and I'll just give you a couple of examples.

Someone is eligible for PUA if their place of employment is closed because of COVID-19, or a child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that's closed as a direct result of COVID-19. Someone is eligible if they've been diagnosed with COVID-19, or a member of their family has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or they're individuals required to be in quarantine… and these qualifying reasons are set forth in the law.

The benefit amount for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance is a minimum amount, and that minimum amount is set by statute to be 50% of the state's normal weekly benefit amount. So there is a certain amount for each state of what that minimum amount is going to be. If an individual submits proof of earnings beyond that might merit a higher benefit amount, that can be done. The minimum amount will also be increased by $600, and I'll talk about the federal unemployment additional compensation in just a moment.

So our information, as of today, is that 36 states are processing these PUA claims. We have another four states, so I think we're going to hit 40 states, processing these claims by Monday. Given that this was just signed by the president on March 27th, I'm very impressed with what our states are doing, given the complexities of this new program. So for those of you who are interested in finding additional information about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, there is a lot of information on the NASWA website. In addition, the USDOL unemployment insurance office has additional information.

I did also want to mention the other new programs. In additional to the new PUA program, we have Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which is PEUC. For those of you who are involved in these issues in the Great Recession, you might remember Emergency Unemployment Compensation, EUC. This was back in 2009 where we had different levels of extensions. Under the normal state unemployment insurance plans, those can vary from 12 weeks to most state have 26 weeks of benefits. What PEUC, or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, does is it gives you an additional 13 weeks of benefits. These 13 weeks of benefits are for individuals who have exhausted their basic UI.

Another new program is the $600. This is the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, people in the industry are calling it FPUC. FPUC is also a provision under the CARES Act. This adds an additional $600 of federal benefits to regular UI, the PUA, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the PEUC, and any extended benefits a state might have. The $600 is 100% federally funded. All states has started paying the $600. It's very important to note that this program expires at the end of July. It's only through July 31st, compared to a lot of the other provisions go through the end of the year.

I'm going to mention one other provision of the CARES Act, because I know it's one of Stuart's favorite projects, and that is short-term compensation. The CARES Act provides for temporary federal funding of short-term compensation, which is also known as Work Share, or Shared Work. For those of you who are not familiar with Work Share, it's in about 27 of our states, and this is a program that's popular in Europe. What it does, it's an alternative to regular unemployment insurance benefits for employers who are very concerned about retaining skilled workers.

So an employer can reduce the hours of the employees and make up the difference in the individual's lost wages with an unemployment insurance benefit. It is really a fabulous program, long underutilized. But now, with this 100% federal funding, we are seeing a lot of states with renewed interest in their programs, and states that don't have programs are talking about starting new programs. So, it's something that will be interesting to watch and see how it is used during these coming years.

That is my summary of the new programs and unemployment insurance under the CARES Act. Before I close, I just wanted to point out some of the resources we have at NASWA. On our webpage, we have been collecting information from the states and federal resources related to COVID-19, mainly in the area of unemployment insurance. We're going to be expanding this to include more workforce as that area gears up. We have a lot of information about states, resources available in the states, and we have other information for our members. And that information is in a member’s only area.

We're sharing promising practices, letting them see each other's policies, so they can really work off of what each other is doing as they work to improve. We've also been having weekly meetings with UI directors, workforce agency administrators, and agency attorneys, as they work to implement these new programs. We have a dedicated email for our members and are assisting states as they work to make sure that these programs are implemented in a way that prevents fraud and over payments. We have an integrity center at NASWA working on that issue.

Finally, we're working with Congress, DOL, and other organizations like Kermit's to clarify and work through the changes that are being passed in order to make sure that these programs can be implemented as smoothly as possible. So that's what I have to share. Happy to continue in the discussion, and very interested in seeing and hearing from Kenyatta and Tyra about what's happening.

Miller: Great. Thank you so much, Julie. Quickly, before we shift over, there's a couple of questions here that I think National Skills and NASWA are well-positioned to respond. There was a question that came in about supporting folks with disabilities, and how are we including them as core stakeholders in our general thought processes as it relates to career pathways, education, and training. So Kermit, is that something you can weigh in on from NSC's perspective?

Kaleba: Sure. I will say National Skills Coalition is part of a group called the Campaign to Invest in America's Workforce, which is a coalition of national organizations who do advocacy for expanded investments in education and training, particularly under the core programs for WIOA, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. I think it's very important, as I talked about the importance of making sure that we focused on an inclusive economic recovery. This is a good example of where I think we need to make sure that we're focusing on policies not just to, again, get us back to where we were before the crisis started; but, that we need to use this opportunity to be investing in workers who have not always been able to take advantage of economic opportunities.

Many folks on the call are aware, individuals with disabilities often face barriers to employment and education and often have much higher rates of unemployment even before we hit this economic crisis than the overall population. So, I appreciate the question because I think it speaks to the importance of as we're thinking about our economic recovery. As we're thinking about the investments we're making, we do want to make sure that we're investing in those programs and strategies that bring all workers to economic opportunity, and we need to have all of these partners engaged in advocacy. As we've talked to the administration, as we've talked to Congress, it's important to make sure that we're collectively advocating for investments that invest in workers and invest in businesses.

Miller: And Julie, anything else to add, quickly, on that point?

Squire: Just very quickly, I did want to emphasize how interested state workforce agencies are in that issue, and as a matter of fact, we have an Equal Opportunity Committee at NASWA focusing on making sure that these programs are accessible to everyone.

Miller: Thank you. There was another comment that came in as well, just around the rural population and access to broadband and the challenges that that presents as we're moving into kind of virtual online training and service opportunities. I know that's something that's very important to the Fed's work as well as National Skills, so yes, that is something that we are particularly focused on as it relates to WIOA, and TANF programs, and the like. Another quick question, or comments that just came up, and I know that we've talked about this more anecdotally, but developing that trust between our participants and the workers and things like that. There's a lot of trepidation out there with just this online service delivery, and then the information that needs to be shared to provide effective service and getting them back employed as we move into recovery.

So a couple of other questions here that I'll be able to kind of coordinate, I don't want to take any more time away from Kenyatta and Tyra, so continue to send your questions in, we'll be able to summarize these and get our panel to respond to that. But with that, I would very much like to welcome Kenyatta Lovett, the Assistant Commissioner of Workforce Services with the Tennessee Department of Labor and his copilot on the Tennessee Talent Exchange, Tyra Copas, to join us.

There is another question that came through, quickly, asking specifically to you, Kermit, if you could share more information about the job creation proposals that are under consideration.

Kaleba: Sure, I know two areas that I'll highlight. I think as folks know, there's been a lot of discussion about the possibility of including infrastructure investments broadly in any recovery package, and I think when we think about infrastructure that it would be inclusive of what we traditionally think of the roads and bridges, but also to get back to the earlier question, more investment in broadband access and in energy projects.

It's a little hard to tell right now what the sort of politics are around infrastructure and investments, but I know that certainly the administration and Speaker Pelosi have indicated that they very much want to see infrastructure as part of a recovery package. I think if we were to see a major infrastructure investment, that we want to make sure is that that investment, as those jobs are being created, that there are meaningful opportunities for folks who are in the communities that are being served by those infrastructure investments, have meaningful access to those jobs and have access to training opportunities to be able to take advantage of those jobs.

Another area that I know Congress is looking at is, particularly in response to COVID, has been public health agencies looking to hire folks who can do contact tracing. We’re finding out where folks who've had COVID may have had interactions with other people and trying to track down. That's in the community, its hard work, and there's a need for bodies on the ground, so I know that there's a proposal that's likely to come out later this week to invest in those jobs and training for those jobs. Those are just a couple of examples of some possible options.

Miller: Great. Thank you so much. And I think we have Kenyatta on the line. Kenyatta?

Kenyatta Lovett: Yes. Thanks, Stuart and Sarah, for having us on this call and on this session. I wanted to reiterate what Julie said first, which you can imagine, every department of labor or workforce development across the nation is totally consumed with unemployment insurance claims and the like. And the federal response has been comprehensive. One would imagine you'd have very little capacity to think about anything other than that, and that's why we're so proud in Tennessee to have the opportunity where a few of our leaders were very proactive. We’ve had the capacity to be on the offensive and think through a program that could be beneficial to Tennesseeans that are incredibly in need. I want to mention something that Kermit said that is definitely related to it as well, and it's about transitioning to new industries; but, more importantly, it's about redesigning infrastructures that probably are going to play out for the foreseeable future.

As you can imagine in Tennessee, our situation, when you think about the first few employers and employees that were impacted by COVID-19, were those in the hospitality industry. When you think of Nashville, obviously it's our music industry, our restaurants, and you look across the entire state of Tennessee, whether it's Memphis or going over to the mountains on the east side of the state. We have a ton of industries, a ton of employers and a lot of employees that are involved in hospitality and those similar industries that have been impacted.

The industry associations actually reached out to us initially and had a conversation about how can we help the large wave of dislocated workers in the hospitality industry get to safety possibly in areas that have an unusually high demand for workers. Think IT, food and grocery retail, other types of supply chain and management and logistics, as well as health care. And can we create a throughput, a pipeline by which we can connect those dislocated workers to those jobs that have immediate demand right now.

So in very short order, probably less than a week or two, Tyra Copas, who is on our team and has helped build our apprenticeship infrastructure, was charged to work with the industry associations and see what we could create to facilitate this exchange between one industry and going to the next with dislocated workers. We announced in late March that we were going to create a program called the Tennessee Talent Exchange, and this is our first of many offensives to the impact by COVID-19. But as you'll see on the slide, it's a considerable amount of people impacted by COVID-19 from the hospitality sector, we're thinking 30 to 40% reduction in that staffing. There are about 6.7 million people in Tennessee, so you can imagine the magnitude of what that means for our economy when so many will be impacted.

Our goal was how can we create a throughput by which we could collect information from participants who are now dislocated find opportunities where they have matching hours, matching schedules, and hopefully we can match their wages, so that there's no or very little impact by the result of what COVID-19 has brought about. Also, we want to leverage transferrable skills to industries that could quickly say these are some workers that we quickly want to bring on either short-term or long-term. Basically, the Tennessee Talent Exchange is made up of, right now, three statewide industry associations. We mentioned the hospitality industry, but definitely the grocer industry is part of it; and, those involved in logistics and supply chain management, as well as a new one that's coming on is health care.

So phase one was to, first, build this infrastructure and get individuals engaged in the process. To date, we have 100 employers in Tennessee that have participated in this, and these are employers that are saying we're hiring right now, we have these jobs, what can you do in connecting us to some of the dislocated workers? And we'll show you in the graph later, we've had a little over 2,000 participants sign up for this program, to be part of this Tennessee Talent Exchange. Phase one was in the food and retail industry, it's about 15,000 plus job postings that were available, and we were looking at going into phase two, which is around health care and information technology.

This is when I'll ask Tyra to chime in, if Tyra's on the call, to talk about the growth. I wanted Tyra to give some stories or storytelling regarding what she's heard from industry associations, from employers, and more importantly from participants, but you'll see our growth rate in when we first announced the program in late March until recently, last week, where we are, or the week before that, in our numbers and you'll see that the engagement of dislocated workers is extremely strong. Again, having 100 employers being involved in this program is really critical. I want to go back, also, to what Kermit talked about before Tyra comes on.

We have a concern that some may not be able to transition successfully over to a new industry or to a new job because there are some gaps in their skill sets that need to be addressed. So phase two also involves working with our higher education partners, our trainers, and our post-secondary education partners in trying to see how we can create short-term, but substantial credentials in courses. Definitely delivered virtually, so that we can identify when employers or industries say these are the skill gaps that we see for some of our applicants that we need to address, so that we can create quick online programming. In a week, or two, or three, they can take those courses, go through that rigor, and be able to demonstrate competency in that level to get them to safety.

Back to the infrastructure part that you mentioned, Kermit. I totally agree. These things were having to stand up in a matter of weeks or days, as before we would have to stand it up in years, so that's something that's on our mind. But Tyra, if you don't mind, just giving a little background on your experience in building it, but also may be good for the audience to hear employer stories and also industry stories.

Miller: Let's move on. Certainly, we'll be able to get some kind of anecdotal insights from Tyra and be able to share that with the digest, but as you can see here, as Kenyatta said, I can't even imagine the Herculean effort this was to pull it off in such a short period of time. As you can see, just the amazing growth rate in terms of their applicants and the number of businesses that they're working in.

When I first found out about this model from Kenyatta, probably on the 22nd of March, a day before it was launched, I couldn't stop singing its praises, and you can just see kind of the brilliance behind the scenes there to get this popped up and get these folks back to employment. I love that their focus is on ensuring that there's a skills match, and that they can quickly get folks back into employment; but, that they are looking at this through a phased lens that really does underpin that mobility and resilience component. We want them to get into jobs that have a greater ability to weather challenges like this, whether it be technical advances and the like.

Tyra Copas: So I'll give you just a few, kind of some fun stories, maybe. As you can see, we took kind of a shotgun approach to try to flood the market with individuals who are losing their jobs in one industry and going into temporary jobs or another industry. What we did not want to happen is move all these people, and then when the economy does change—after COVID-19 comes back to a new normal—we didn't want to have the same issue with one, the sector we just moved them to now experiencing unemployment.

Our goal was to move them temporarily, with the expectation that they would eventually move back. So, we've monitored kind of how we've been flooding the market. Our performance has been a little hard to measure the outcome, simply because employers, in let's say the grocery industry, have broken all the rules when it comes to hiring their candidates. They've foregone things that they've done in the past like background checks or long periods of paperwork to just get them in the door and get them working, unloading trucks, stocking shelves.

We’ve had some stories where they called them that morning and they asked if they can come and report and start work by noon that day. So we've had a significant amount of people just really going from being unemployed one afternoon to having a job by the next day with similar hours and similar pay. Those are some of the types of stories we have, and now that the curve, so to speak, is starting to flatten out, we are looking ahead to what is phase two of Tennessee Talent Exchange. All those individuals that moved, how do we move them back seamlessly as we start to open back up the hospitality, while also looking ahead of what other industries may have a different type of high demand occupation.

For example, medical coders in our medical industry, or respiratory therapists, which may not have been in high demand back in October of 2019. All of a sudden, in six short months, respiratory therapists are in high demand. So how do we get those incumbent workers upskilled or retrained, and how do we bring in maybe some of those who are on unemployment, back into getting a credentialed, how do we do that?

Miller: And actually, I just want to close this up because we are at the top of the hour. As you can see, we could spend three hours talking about the brilliance of this program, and we very much thank Kenyatta and Tyra, Kermit, and Julie for joining us. There’s a number of different questions on the chat here directly for the Tennessee Talent Exchange. We'll be able to provide those answers on the back end and send that out, so we'll give you a little more time to expand on kind of the next phases, because that is exactly what we all want to be looking towards: What is that resilience component of all of this? So as I said, Stu, maybe if you want to kind of provide just a quick overview of some of our resources, and we look forward to having you next time and for joining us here today.

Andreason: Absolutely. I'll just reiterate, we are going to work to answer the questions that we weren't able to get to. We'll send out a synopsis of this, as well as some of the other questions and answers that we can. And I'll just point to some of the resources that we have at the Atlanta Fed, which you'll see, there are links in the presentation, when we send it out, but we encourage you to visit our site. We encourage you to visit National Skills, and NASWA, and the Tennessee Department of Labor's resources that they talked about, and we really hope that the information today is useful and relevant to everyone. We look forward to seeing you at the next one of these, which we will communicate about very soon. So thank you all so much for taking time out of your days, and for all of the work that you all do.

Miller: Thank you very much.

Squires: Thank you, everyone.

Kaleba: Thank you.