The extra $600 per week Congress added to unemployment benefits as part of its big coronavirus relief bill won’t disappear in three months if these Democrats can get their way.
A proposal by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) would keep the benefits in place while the public health emergency and economic crisis are still in effect.
Congress created the extra benefits as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stability (CARES) Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law at the end of March. The extra $600 is scheduled to expire at the end of July, while additional weeks of benefits will remain available through the end of the year.
“This pandemic and the resulting economic crisis may continue to inflict horrifying suffering on the country for many months to come,” Beyer said in a news release.
More than 30 million Americans have filed unemployment claims in the past two months as state and local authorities have ordered nonessential businesses to shut down in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which is still killing nearly 2,000 Americans per day.
Republicans have complained that the extra unemployment benefits pay some workers more than they earned at their jobs, potentially making it difficult for businesses to hire them back ― even though there’s a deadly pandemic raging and public health experts have said everyone ought to stay home if they can.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said Congress would preserve the extra $600 “over our dead bodies.”
The fight over unemployment benefits is part of a broader debate over whether the U.S. should listen to scientists and maintain social distancing policies or listen to Trump and Republican governors who’ve pushed to reopen the economy more quickly.
The Democratic proposal, which comes as lawmakers debate over what policies to include in any further legislation addressing the coronavirus crisis, would keep the extra $600, as well as additional weeks of benefits, as long as a presidential or gubernatorial emergency declaration remains in effect. Trump declared the outbreak a national emergency in March.
The proposal would also preserve the extra benefits so long as the unemployment rate is elevated, phasing down the dollar amount to $350 after extreme social distancing policies are relaxed. But the benefits wouldn’t go away entirely until the national unemployment rate fell below 5.5%.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said unemployment benefits and another round of direct payments could be part of the next set of Democratic demands, which have mostly seemed to consist of aid to state and local governments. A Democratic aide said leadership has been receptive to the idea of tying unemployment benefits to economic conditions.
“Passing emergency relief legislation that incorporates automatic triggers would have the enormous benefit of ensuring assistance continues to flow to workers even if Congress itself is unable or unwilling to act,” Beyer said.
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